New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew said today that further expansion of Super Rugby is an inevitable economic necessity. So where can the competition expand to?
Chris Rattue makes six suggestions:
A bit of a gamble, and getting into long haul territory with the flight time from Auckland nudging towards 16 hours as Sonny Bill Williams recently found out while trapped in cattle class. The curfew-breaking temptations in Las Vegas are also well known. But Las Vegas is a world sevens circuit stop and proudly promotes an associated Invitational event as "the largest rugby tournament in North America". And America will needs a few teams, so it has its own conference with thrilling derbies. All Las Vegas rugby needs to do is play its cards right, although unfortunately the 15-a-siders face unexpected competition with the Oakland Raiders apparently about to relocate there.
Suggested name: Las Vegas High Rollers
Rugby - the curse breaker. San Diego has never won a major professional sports title, so come on down rugby. Okay, so the 6000-capacity Torero Stadium is a bit on the small side for a sport wanting to present as a world superpower. But San Diego has serious rugby history. In 1980, the All Blacks played the United States in front of 14,000 spectators at what is now called Qualcomm Stadium. And right next door is Little Q Field, home to the mighty Old Mission Beach Athletic Club rugby team which celebrates its 50th birthday this year. San Diego is part of the new American professional league and a sitter for America's Super Rugby west coast roster.
Suggested name: San Diego Spouts
Struggling in the new American PRO league right now, but minor point. And with the Oakland Raiders gridiron team reported to be packing their bags for Las Vegas, there could be a giant opening for a new footy team. Establishing teams in San Diego and San Francisco will set up the Battle of the Sans, a Super Rugby derby for the ages. Has great streets for uphill training runs. And it's only 12 hours away from Auckland, which puts it well and truly in the Super Rugby zone. San Francisco is rugby crazy, and will host the sevens World Cup in 2018 to prove it, with magnificent AT & T park one of the two venues.
Suggested name: San Francisco 15ers
Listen: The Crowd Goes Wild Breakfast interview Steve Tew
Canada has a long World Cup history and would be an ideal North American rugby excursion addition. Vancouver was recently added to the world sevens circuit, it's branding line 'New Place, New Face, New Force' proving irresistible to those groovers at World Rugby. The inaugural sevens tournament in March was rated a huge success by the Vancouver Sun, which noted: "Thousands of elaborately costumed fans - representing all manner of animals and superheroes and in outfits that were just plain bizarre and wacky - danced and partied like it was a New Year's Eve blowout." Those whacky fans deserve something more regular.
Suggested name: Vancouver Loggers
Hong Kong means one thing to rugby fans - shopping. But apart from that, it also means rugby. The country's sevens tournament was legendary, and maybe it still is. And Hong Kong has been a home away from home for the All Blacks and Wallabies, who were anything but duty free as they went to Bledisloe Cup war on neutral soil. It's another 12 hour haul from Auckland, but that's a small price to play if players want their sport to be global or even just plain old semi-global. And somehow, Hong Kong seems closer than California. It's also the gateway to China, a massively rich country which can't wait for rugby to arrive.
Suggested name: Hong Kong Gold Cards
A home away from home to the magnificent Sunwolves, so Super Rugby has already carved out this new territory. So why not go the full hog? Singapore was also home to the Singapore Slingers for a couple of years when they played in the Australian basketball league. The Slingers quit the NBL because of travel costs with their boss saying the future "lay closer to home, rather than in a league based thousands of kilometres away." Rugby is made of sterner stuff though. And it will need to be. It gets very hot and humid there. But as Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett said: "There are challenges whether you play hot, cold... you always try to play to that level of exhaustion." Huh?
Suggested name: Singapore Gems
Possible expansion plans for Super Rugby