Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Sanzaar needs to see that less is more

Supporters during the Super Rugby match between the Toyota Cheetahs and the Sunwolves. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Supporters during the Super Rugby match between the Toyota Cheetahs and the Sunwolves. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

Sanzaar, if nothing else, deserve a little respect for being as committed as they are to their belief they can make the expanded Super Rugby conference system work.

Investing in the long game as they obviously are, may yet prove to be the smartest play.

Maybe in 10 years or so when a team from the USA plays the Sunwolves in the final, this whole business of global domination will be vindicated.

But if setting up new teams in new territories in 2021 as appears to now be the longer-term strategic vision is going to have any chance of increasing the competitiveness and value of the competition, then first there has to be contraction in two of the existing territories.

What's staring Sanzaar and its partners in the face is that they can't build a bigger, sustainable competition from the current foundations. At great expense, consultancy firm Accenture has been asked to produce a blueprint of what Super Rugby should look like beyond the terms of the five-year broadcast deal that began this year.

Detail hasn't been finalised but the indications are that the plan will be to site new teams in emerging rugby markets such as the USA, South America and Asia. Rugby is growing in popularity in pockets of these wider geographic zones and, perhaps just as importantly from an executive viewpoint, there is the lure of broadcast and sponsorship dollars.

Listen: Radio Sport's Kent Johns discusses the Super Rugby draw with Hurricanes CEO Avan Lee:

WHAT DO YOU THINK? JOIN THE DEBATE - EMAIL RADIO SPORT'S MARK WATSON

Sanzaar give off this vibe that they want to, in time, build a 20-plus team competition with a presence across the new world. They believe that the next phase of expansion is loaded with possibility, not just in where teams could be based and how many are included, but also in the format adopted.

Again, this may be the right plan, it may not. The only thing for certain is that if Sanzaar don't strengthen the respective situations in South Africa and Australia in the immediate future, then their grand vision will collapse.

The ratios will be all wrong: there will be a handful of genuine contenders and the rest will be making up the numbers - being lauded for avoiding 50-point hidings while their bemused coaches will talk about the incredible "learnings" they take from each hiding and how it is all onwards and upwards.

But no one will be fooled which is why Accenture has asked Sanzaar to consider chopping one team in Australia and one in South Africa in time for the 2018 season. Neither country can make any sensible or compelling rugby argument that they can sustain their current allocation of teams.

The Australian Rugby Union has tried to establish the game in Perth, but it's time to say that brave venture needs to be abandoned. The Force are sucking up cash the ARU can't afford and pulling players from too many places - weakening the other four teams in the process.

It would be madness for Sanzaar to press on with expansion plans when the Western Force are such a liability. They need to be chopped and Australia reduced to four teams for the 2018 season. If they come down to four teams, the concentration of better players will be higher, individual skills can be more quickly improved and internal competition can drive inensity.

The situation is not so different in South Africa where they don't have the players to successfully run six teams. Like the Australians, they have to make a sacrifice for the greater good of Super Rugby and blade one of their teams.

For the moment, Sanzaar urgently needs to push the message that less is more: that consolidation is a stop on the road to expansion.

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