The Holy Grail – A Global Season
by Rob Wallace
14 Mar 2008
There seems to be some suggestion rugby is in trouble. Crowd numbers are down, as are TV viewing figures. The media suggest people are sick of rugby after the farce of RWC 07.
SARFU have already signed away their TV rights from 2010 onward, which suggests that SANZAR may be in trouble, given that South African media companies have generally paid proportionately more into SANZAR than Australia or NZ. Add in whispers of SA joining Northern Hemisphere (NH) competitions since they are in the same time zone, and John O’Neill’s recent proposal to expand the Super 14 into Asia and the Pacific and it would seem there could be a big changes in rugby as we know it over the next 3 years.
If there are to be changes, then they must occur within the concept of a global rugby season or NZ and Australia risk being marginalised, purely due to financial constraints. The end game for one such scenario is all top our players in Europe, much as soccer does now. A global season is the single most important and powerful way of protecting our interests. Given that the NH dominate the IRB, and given the financial clout of the NH clubs it is unlikely they will compromise very far from their current setup.
The easiest way to accomplish a global season would be to move the Tri-Nations to coincide with the Six-Nations competition, early in the year. This international window could be preceded by Southern Hemisphere (SH) teams touring the NH in January rather than the current November, and the NH teams touring down below in April, rather than the current June. This would give a 4 month international window from January to March. These windows could be extended or moved by 2 weeks at either end, but would still give an eight week window with no scheduled rugby somewhere in May/June/July.
There are some compromises with this setup. The test window will impinge on the NH club competition in a larger block than the current staggered system does, where the tours to the SH occur after the club season finishes. But it should still be possible to have 5 months of uninterrupted NH club rugby from August to December, and if necessary part of May could be freed up for Club finals after the Internationals have finished.
The downside for NZ is that the provincial championship would become an amateur second-tier competition, but as more provincial unions begin struggle financially this may not be a bad thing. The re-jigged calendar gives a 5 month window from July to November for a ‘Super’ competition. Given this may now the be only professional rugby competition in NZ it should be expanded to include ~8 NZ teams with amalgamation of the current provinces much as S14 does now. It would also be opportune to include Pacific Island, Argentinian, and Japanese teams in this new competition, as well as considering basing teams off-shore.
The NZ club season could run much as it has done over the past. The provincial competition (including all provinces but no fully professional players) could either run underneath the ‘Super’ competition as curtain-raisers or, since it is not using professional or contracted players, it could run during the protected 8 week rest period in May/June/July.by