Super Rugby most likely won't survive another catastrophic, but well-intentioned, compromised-format agreement.
It's already been the victim of too much cosmetic surgery over the years: too many times it has been on the operating table – bits hacked off, ill-conceived additions stuck where they shouldn't have been and each time it has emerged to a collective gasp of horror when the public have caught sight of its latest look.
When it was once considered beautiful – back in the late 1990s and early 2000s – there was nothing contrived nor forced about Super Rugby.
It was the envy of the rugby world – a simple format producing intense rugby. No one needed a PhD to work out what multiple league tables were really telling them, and no side could sneak into the playoffs on the basis they were the best in their own chronically awful sub-set that had pre-negotiated a route to success.
It took 25 years and the intervention of a global pandemic for some within the Sanzaar think-tank to realise that the natural look is best for Super Rugby and hence late last year, New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia began to close in on an agreement about rebuilding the competition with 12 teams and a round-robin format in 2022.
There was genuine relief within New Zealand's five Super Rugby teams, as this is exactly what they wanted.
Multiple birds were being killed with this one stone – as players and coaches in this country wanted to include and be able to play all five Australian teams and see Moana Pasifika and Fiji Drua introduced.
They wanted a less convoluted format and a shorter competition with less travel.
A 12-team, Transtasman-Pasifika competition ticked every box and from November last year to just a few weeks ago, there was an air of contentment, excitement even, that after just about killing Super Rugby, the same people had miraculously delivered the panacea.
But somehow, here we are now, the certainty and feel-good gone, as once again, the Ministry of Silly Ideas has found a way to intervene and potentially deliver one last, mortal blow to Super Rugby.
Rugby Australia, having seen how their domestic audience switched on to watch their own teams play each other and then switched off when the New Zealand teams got involved, wants more of the former and less of the latter in 2022.
They have to protect their commercial interests, fight for what they believe is right for their players, their fans and their market but equally, what must have surely been learnt in the last 25 years, is that compromised agreements ultimately suit no one.
Super Rugby's demise can be directly linked to decisions being made with the intention of appeasing one country rather than for what they actually did for the competition.
Super Rugby can't be constructed to give everyone what they want. That's what broke it pre-Covid and that's what will break it again if, next year, Rugby Australia is granted its wish and we see some contrived setup where there is a kind of round-robin, then a conference element and then an extended play-off series where just about every team is involved.
Rugby Australia may be able to argue right now that they need more local derby games to engage their audience, excite sponsors and drive broadcast value.
Longer term, however, that model will fail because it will rob New Zealanders of what they truly want to see and after a time, so too will Australian fans realise that they are bored of seeing the same five teams play each other and come to understand that the insularity is an accelerated pathway to mediocrity.
In the past, NZR have been willing to indulge their partners – sign off on agreements they don't love or fully support, but accept are an inevitable part of being in a partnership with other nations with divergent needs.
But this time such an approach can't be justified, on the basis that everyone has seen that compromise doesn't work.
Super Rugby needs a bolder vision than pandering to Australia's highly specific needs.
NZR need to hold a firm line on what they want because right now they have leverage: they have the bigger, longer broadcast deal, the fan base, the profile and player depth that Australia doesn't.
There is also 25 years of evidence to say that clean, simple formats are what work best and, maybe most important of all, is the overwhelming sense that having been through so many changes in the last decade, that it can't possibly be wise to try yet another quirky, experimental set-up.
Super Rugby needs a prolonged period of stability built on a simple format. Failing that, it probably won't survive.