The Sunwolves, the cheers of their supporters still ringing in their ears after a wildly successful New Zealand tour during which they beat the Chiefs and lost narrowly to the Blues, will tomorrow see their demise confirmed.
But while this will be extremely disappointing news for all connected to the franchise who were understandably delighted with their recent historic victory in Hamilton, their departure after next year will improve Super Rugby considerably because it will make for a fairer competition which is, crucially, easier to understand.
It will also be better for the players and, due partly to a slightly later start, could end the current piecemeal system whereby top All Blacks are filtered into the competition when it is four or five weeks old. That by itself will strengthen the integrity of a competition which lost its way in 2011 after the bloated and convoluted conference system was introduced.
It is understood that from 2021, Super Rugby will feature only 14 teams – five from New Zealand, four from Australia, four from South Africa and one from Argentina. It will allow for a proper round-robin system whereby every team plays every other. The Crusaders have been campaigning for this for years.
The top six teams, regardless of nationality, will make the playoffs. The top two teams will progress straight to home semifinals, with the third highest ranked team playing the sixth and four playing five for the right to make up the top four.
The new system removes the anomalies of the current one whereby teams are guaranteed a place in the playoffs by virtue of finishing first in their conference. Another anomaly dispatched with is the quirk enjoyed by the Lions, who qualified for a home final without having to play a New Zealand team. After beating the Hurricanes in their semifinal, they lost to the Crusaders.
How else is it better for the players, and in particular New Zealand's? There will be fewer derby matches – four per team in regular season compared with the current eight – a relief for most All Blacks and their coach Steve Hansen who has long said that the matches between close rivals create physical and mental pressures like few others.
The current overdose on derby matches might be good for the fans (and broadcasters) because of the intensity of the clashes, but, apart from the increased risk of injury, they can be difficult mentally because of the need to secure competition points while denying them to your opponent. The pressure is almost two-fold.
Another factor will be the ability by competition organisers Sanzaar to allow all teams to have byes at advantageous times. The current 15-team competition makes that difficult and that was plainly evident this year in the Reds having one of their two byes in round one, a ridiculous turn of events (the Rebels had their first bye in round two).
So, a better competition all-round is on the horizon. Possibly the only thing missing is all games played within a suitable time zone (no more overnight matches), but that, currently, is an impossible dream.