Sanzar, the organisers of Super Rugby, cannot be said the be short-sighted. It is already looking ahead five years to it next expansion for new television contracts. It may bring in two more teams from two new territories, adding to the five countries now taking part in the competition. Ambitious and far-sighted it may be, but serious questions need to be answered first about the size and format of the competition as it is.
None of those questions seemed to be troubling the head of Sanzar, Andy Marinos, when he spoke on Radio Sport after the announcement of next season's draw this week. The conference system will continue. "It's not broken," he said. "It had some really good games, some good results and ultimately a fantastic final."
He might have praised the whole play-off phase. Once New Zealanders had grumbled at the unfairness of having only one home quarter- final when three of the other four teams in the play-offs had more points than their opponents, it was an absorbing weekend. And when this country contributed three of the four semifinalists, justice was served.
Since the South African Lions had defeated the Crusaders and Highlanders in fine style on their home ground, they came to Wellington for the final posing a threat. But the Hurricanes were on a roll with Beauden Barrett and T. J. Perenara in sublime form through the play-offs. It was a memorable few weeks but the preceding four months were not. If the Super 13 is a gruelling saga for the teams, it has become merely tedious for the fans.
It became so even when all teams played each other and it was easy the follow. Since the introduction of the conference system fans have found it unfair and fathoming each team's standings seems hardly worth the effort. Super Rugby occupies the best part of the rugby season and it should not be this way. Thankfully, the brilliance of this All Black era is giving New Zealand rugby followers all the pleasure they need, but rugby needs more engrossing competitions at all levels.
All Black coach Steve Hansen this week suggested annual matches between the winners of the Southern Hemisphere and European competitions. The winner of the southern Rugby Championship would play the Six Nations' champion and the winner of Super Rugby would play the European Cup winner. It is an enticing idea. It would give world rugby an event every year rather than every four years. It should not be too hard to allay the IRB's fears for the effect on its quadrennial World Cup. That tournament would retain its special flavour and status.
An annual match for world supremacy would add a dollop of cream to the already tasty crust on Sanzar's pudding but the pudding would remain a problem. It needs the magic ingredient that sustains public interest in other long professional leagues in the likes of England's football, American football, baseball and basketball, Australian league. The Warriors might not be as successful as our rugby teams but they play in a more successful competition.
Sanzar seems more interested in colonising new territory than finding its missing ingredient. It has scheduled the Hurricanes to open the defence of their championship next year against the Sunwolves in Tokyo. Marinos thinks his scheduling task is the hardest in sport, sending 18 teams to 15 different time zones. Maybe so, but week to week followers of a team should not want to miss it.