SA‚ New Zealand‚ Australia and Argentina Rugby (Sanzaar) will reveal its new Super Rugby format in the coming week‚ which will again change the landscape of the tournament.
Business Day has had it confirmed from two sources that the Southern Kings and Cheetahs from SA and the Melbourne Rebels from Australia are set to be cut‚ although the time frame remains unclear.
Japan’s Sunwolves and Argentina’s Jaguares will survive as the tournament reverts to 15 teams – where it stood in 2012-15.
Although Sanzaar’s official stance has been neutral following meetings in London last week‚ it did hint that there would be significant changes to not only Super Rugby‚ but the organisation’s structure as well.
"Following two days of robust discussion there are a number of tournament considerations that now require further discussion and consultation‚" Sanzaar CEO Andy Marinos said.
"This includes final consultation within the national unions and discussion with key stakeholders that would allow the adoption of future changes proposed by the strategic plan.
"Sanzaar will make a formal statement on the future of the organisation‚ Super Rugby and the tournament format in the coming days once these further meetings have been concluded."
Culling the Kings and Rebels makes sense for various reasons. The Kings are not viable‚ they have not found a sponsor‚ they cannot attract top quality players‚ their largest member union (EP) was liquidated and they are surviving on grants from SA Rugby.
The Rebels have been unable to gain traction in Melbourne and their existence has diluted Australia’s thin player base to breaking point.
Five franchises are too many in a country with fewer than 40,000 registered senior male players, according to the last World Rugby census.
Which brings us to the Cheetahs. The rumour mill has been in overdrive this week about their potential Super Rugby demise and most reaction has been shock at eliminating the Cheetahs from the core group of SA franchises in Super Rugby.
But cold analysis indicates that they have done little to warrant automatic inclusion in Super Rugby by virtue of producing a few Springbok players.
Grey College in Bloemfontein is the real Bok nursery and not the Cheetahs franchise.
At an amateur level, Free State rugby will still thrive because of the conveyor belt out of Grey College. But that conveyor belt has not led to Super Rugby success because the best players are eventually contracted country-wide.
Taking the Cheetahs out of Super Rugby will not kill Grey College‚ but taking Grey College out of Bloemfontein would kill Free State rugby.
Delving into the Cheetahs contribution to Super Rugby further‚ the numbers do not stack up. Their average attendance is fewer than 10,000 per home game‚ which is paltry.
In 11 seasons as a standalone franchise‚ excluding 1997 when they played in Super 12 as Free State‚ the Cheetahs have reached the playoffs only once – in 2013. That season they won 10 out of 16 matches. They have never won more than five matches per season in any other year.
In total from 2006 to last weekend‚ the Cheetahs had played 164 matches‚ won 52‚ lost 109 and drawn three. That is a winning ratio of 31.7%.
But it gets worse when broken down into home and away because 35 of their wins have been in Bloemfontein and only 17 on the road. Of those away wins nine have been against South African opposition while only eight have been against "foreign" teams.
In 22 away matches against New Zealand teams they have picked up just two wins – both in 2013 when they made the playoffs for the only time. Against Australian sides it is five wins in 24 away games.
The Lions have not fared much better‚ although their overall numbers includes eight seasons of playing as the Cats – a loose merger with Free State.
The Cheetahs cannot make a strong case for continued inclusion in the tournament. Would they have survived for so long on such poor results had the tournament included a relegation component?