Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Super Rugby: New Super format favours players

Local derbies cut from eight to six, resulting in less 'bash' between opponents and less cash through turnstiles.

Eden Park
Eden Park

Super Rugby's new format has been endorsed by New Zealand's players but commerce teams around the country may take more convincing after seeing their most lucrative income stream cut by 25 per cent.

The players have unquestionably been the big winners in the restructure - getting their way with fewer local derbies, a shorter competition and a longer pre-season.

The disparate preferences of the players, broadcasters, administrators and sponsors left the New Zealand Rugby Union with a tough balancing act. The players had argued that the double round of local derbies was too demanding - too physically intense, but they were also the games that brought spikes in ticket revenue and broadcast audience.

"There's a lot riding on those local derbies the way the conferences are set up, but it makes for a tough old year when you have to bash each other eight times," said All Black captain Richie McCaw. "The ideal thing would be to play everyone once, the way it was in the past, but with extra teams and all those things that come with it, there are a few more factors at play."

With 21 weeks in which to fit the competition and New Zealand adamant they wanted meaningful contact with South Africa, there wasn't enough time to fit in a true round-robin so the compromise was made to cut the local derbies from eight per team to six.

How the schedule will be determined - each New Zealand team will play one full round of local derbies plus another two intra-conference games - has not been finalised.

There will be some anxiety among the New Zealand franchises about how the loss of those two local derbies is resolved. Gate revenues can be anything up to 50 per cent higher for those domestic tussles.

Respective franchise marketing teams are going to have to hope the new format captures the imagination of the New Zealand public and that the international fixtures grow in popularity. On the evidence of the past three seasons, a 25 per cent cut in local derbies will result in a 25 per cent drop in gate income.

"Opinion is divided in New Zealand as to the value of local derbies," said NZRU chief executive Steve Tew. "Operators of Super teams are keen because local derbies has pushed gate takings up, but overall numbers don't grow. Local derbies may gain but other matches here see reduced gates.

"If you talk to a coach and some of our top players, then beating ourselves up constantly is not such a good idea either.

"You do have to make some balancing judgments. We think retaining some local derbies is worthwhile, fans clearly enjoy them. That's been done."

A secondary issue for the players was the question of credibility. They wanted a format that provided all teams with a realistic chance of winning.

Whether that's happened is questionable. The solitary team based in Argentina can all but be written off such will be the extent of the time they spend on the road.

The playoff format doesn't necessarily cater for the imbalance between the two groups either. Each conference winner is guaranteed a quarter-final place and will be seeded one to four depending on their overall points total. There will be another four places open to the next highest finishing teams who will be ranked five to eight and the playoff draw pitting the highest seed against the lowest.

"I guess from a player's point of view you want a competition with integrity in terms of [making sure] one team doesn't get it easier than the others, all those sorts of things, and [making sure] one team isn't disadvantaged by travel more than others," said McCaw. "That's the trouble with teams like Argentina, they're going to be on the road a fair bit."

- NZ Herald

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