Some years ago, I was forced to make three people redundant. The company I was running at the time had not brought in enough business.

Something had to give. Yet the reason I still view this as one of the worst days of my life was that the lack of revenue was not the fault of the three being made redundant.

That was down to me. That was my job. Yes, it was in the midst of an international downturn but the basic unfairness of people jettisoned for reasons beyond their control still sits badly with me.

We all know books must be balanced. There is also little point ditching the people who can bring in the business when the economic climate improves (and it did).


But it still rankles - as does the catastrophe of Sanzaar's expansion of Super Rugby from 15 teams to 18 last year. Now we are going back to 15; effectively Sanzaar are making 16 per cent of their entire rugby player workforce redundant.

The human cost became apparent when grizzled flanker Matt Hodgson, of the embattled Western Force franchise, came close to tears as he contemplated the future - or lack of it. Hodgson, a tough, respected player revealed the collateral damage of a preventable downturn. The Force, Rebels, Kings and Cheetahs are the franchises thought to be most at risk of being the three thrown overboard to reduce the ballast.

Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos, in February, rebuffed claims Super Rugby had lost its sheen. He employed some dubious statistics to show points and tries per match had increased - overlooking that the number of high-scoring mismatches had also increased.

He also said of the 50 million global audience for Super Rugby that "from a viewership perspective, by some order of magnitude, we dwarf what the other competitions are generating. I still believe it is the premium competition."

The UK's Aviva premiership claims its matches are available to
175 million households (as opposed to actually being watched).

But, hey, Andy, if the competition was so good, why did you say this on April 17, when announcing 18-becomes-15: "Without being too melodramatic, I don't think we would have had much of a product to put into the [broadcasting] market come 2020."

Australian Rugby Union head Bill Pulver quoted in August last year, in the happy, clappy days of expansion: "I think it's difficult to shrink a game to greatness."

Nine months later: "Sadly, it is very clear to me now that we cannot sustain five teams either from a financial perspective or a high performance perspective."


The lasting shame Sanzaar, peopled by the CEOs of all the member unions including New Zealand, will have to bear was that Blind Freddie could have seen the 18-team conference format was confusing, dull and inherently unfair.

At least they have done something about it - even though it is still a mess. There are so many issues - travel, player welfare, money, TV - the simple formation of a round robin contest where everyone plays everyone else appears beyond them.

The Force have threatened legal action to avoid being dumped; it is hard not to sympathise. Sanzaar decided three teams had to go - but stopped short of saying which three. That's like me announcing to the company in the redundancy scenario above that three people had to go but it was up to the staff to sort out which three.

Did I say it was a mess? There will be legal and other reasons why Sanzaar didn't swing the axe itself but the resulting uncertainty and indecision has made them look like lemmings building a cliff.

It's not as if case studies of businesses expanding too far, too fast do not exist; they abound. The drive to earn more revenue and prevent player drift to the north went unchecked; the golden goose of broadcast rights became a dead duck when attendances fell because of the competition structure, mismatches and resulting lack of interest.

It's not going too far to claim the Sanzaar expansions have helped diminish Australian and South African performances in international rugby. New Zealand, the only member country not to have spread resources too thin through expansion, is in rude health.

Many can't see why the Sunwolves of Japan stay, as do the Jaguares of Argentina. The latter have improved; Argentine rugby was ignored for too long. South Africa and Australia have both won the Rugby World Cup twice and Japan will likely never win it - yet the crowds and the wolf howls of the Sunwolves fans hint at some real growth from the east.

But it will be many years before rugby folk view Sanzaar as masterminds. Australian and South African rugby have to recover somehow or Sanzaar will be in danger of being cast as the asteroid which plummeted to Earth and ended the reign of the dinosaurs.
The difference is the asteroid was not a preventable accident.