Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Plans to stem southern player exodus

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew has said he won't agree to any tests beyond 2019 until they have an agreement about restructuring the season. Photo / Brett Phibbs
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew has said he won't agree to any tests beyond 2019 until they have an agreement about restructuring the season. Photo / Brett Phibbs

There has only just been massive change to Super Rugby and yet there's already pressing need for more. Southern hemisphere rugby is under pressure from multiple sources and is starting to bend and buckle.

The paradox is that, financially, things have never been so good. The current broadcast deal has brought a 100 per cent lift in revenue. But the game south of the Equator has moved forward only to find that the other major markets have made similar leaps and that players throughout Super Rugby are more vulnerable than ever.

The French have signed an extraordinary TV deal that's worth more than half a billion dollars and their buying power is such that 16 South African Super Rugby players will be heading there in August. Wallabies Liam Gill and Joe Tomane will also be leaving for France and it is likely that All Blacks prop Charlie Faumuina will confirm he is joining Toulouse in 2017.

A change in salary cap regulations has allowed the English clubs to pay marquee players what they want, which is why Matt Toomua is heading to Leicester, Kurtley Beale to Wasps and another six Super Rugby South Africans to a variety of different clubs.

There are 17 South Africans heading to Japan as well as the likes of Cory Jane and Andrew Horrell.

Traffic has flowed steadily to Japan for a few years but is increasing because clubs there are now allowed to contract an extra "foreign" player as long as their eligibility hasn't been captured.

Super Rugby has always seen reasonable player movement to richer northern clubs but the volumes haven't historically been this high and more of a worry is that the underlying factors driving it have no obvious solutions.

The weakness of the rand is driving South Africa's exodus, but the situation is not being helped by the difficulties their Super Rugby teams are having staying competitive.

Sanzar chief executive Andy Marinos said this week that he felt South Africa had shown they don't have the playing resources to support the sixth team they were granted this year, while commercially, the Australians are struggling to run five as the Western Force are now being underwritten by the national body across the Tasman.

Of further concern in the bigger picture are the respective decisions by both the Springboks and Wallabies to allow players based offshore to be eligible for selection. Significant change is needed to put the southern game on a better footing and work has already begun on two major fronts.

The first project is creating a global season - or at least a more logical alignment between the two hemispheres. There's unanimous agreement that players around the world need a greater off-season and ideally, from a southern perspective, new structure would allow Super Rugby to be played without pausing for test matches.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew has said he won't agree to any tests beyond 2019 until they have an agreement about restructuring the season. He's hopeful that a plan could be agreed by the end of the year, and reiterated yesterday that he would take aggressive action if an outcome could not be reached.

"In reality the north can't do without the south at the international level and we can't do without the north, either," he said.

"We really don't want to have to take the negotiation to a point where we call that card but we're reasonably confident if we can't get an agreement that's satisfactory - and there will be a compromise - then we'll certainly talk about playing among our southern colleagues at bit more and we might go and negotiate one or two test matches on the side and they'll be very different financial arrangements than the ones we have now. But I'm 99 per cent sure we won't get to that point."

The second project is also underway, which is a massive review of the current Super Rugby set-up, which will lead to a detailed recommendation by the end of the year as to what changes need to be made.

Marinos wants for the south to have a strategic vision and long-term goal for Super Rugby in terms of competition structure and geographic footprint, and for that to hold enough appeal to deter players from looking to ply their trade elsewhere.

- NZ Herald

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