Andrew Mehrtens: Let's ditch South Africa

02:58, Apr 15 2014

As Super Rugby nears its 20th year, I wonder if it's time to shake things up and maybe take a step back from South Africa.

I got up in the early hours of the morning at the weekend and watched my old Crusaders team battle the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein - but I'm sure I was in the minority.

I can't help thinking we might have lost a little interest in playing South African teams, and that ultimately the future of this competition might be more localised round time zones.

The provincial championship still has a pretty strong following, and if you're looking at what Australia and New Zealand needs, maybe it's that parochialism, that tribalism which is very important.

The logistics of involving South Africa are problematic - the travel and time difference - and maybe it would be better for all concerned just to play within our time zone and include teams from the Pacific Islands and Japan.

You could look at extending the number of New Zealand teams and move away from the regional concept, and back to provincial lines. That's the logical progression.


Maybe there could still be post- season involvement with South Africa, but their natural alignment is more with the UK and Europe, in the same time zone.

Any realignment, though, would need to be led by the IRB. If there's to be any form of consensus or consistency with a global international window, it has to come from them.

The New Zealand union supports continued involvement with South Africa but I wonder if money drives that. Where it's going to end up in 20 years' time is having competitions within time zones, and the sooner we get to that point the better for the development of the game.

New Zealand needs to align with a couple of big economies. It can't be the UK or France, so we have to look at helping grow the game in Australia. It's a biggish economy and there's a lot of money to be tapped into if it's done well. Japan would be the other natural alignment that could help with the finances.

You might have 20 teams in our time-zone - eight or so from New Zealand, maybe six in Australia and the rest from the islands and Japan.

Australia has a lot of potential for growth, especially with broadcasting revenue, and New Zealand needs to recognise this. At the moment rugby is the poor cousin of the winter codes but that could easily change.

I'd also like to see more full- scale tours. Lions tours are runaway successes and rugby needs to tap into the demand for these sort of events.

Again the IRB would need to lead the way, and maybe tours could alternate each year with the Rugby Championship. That would mean every four years a country could host a major tour, whether it's by the Springboks, Wallabies, All Blacks or Lions.

The upshot would be New Zealand aligning closely with Australia and Japan, yet retaining links with South Africa and the UK through the touring structure and test matches.

Granted, greater minds than mine might need to hammer out the detail, but that's the way I see the game heading over the next couple of decades.

On a more immediate note, what a couple of cracking contests we have in store this week in Super Rugby with the Hurricanes hosting the Blues and the Crusaders visiting the Chiefs.

The Blues will have benefited from their week off. Sometimes it can be counter-productive if you've got good momentum, but with the Blues on a bit of a rollercoaster ride, the chance to reset and take stock would have been valuable.

Both teams need more consistency and need to manage the down times in games better. The Hurricanes have been starting well but once through that initial ferocity, they can go off the boil a little.

When you make a mistake you need to tighten up and not make another. The French call it a "cascade of errors", and the Canes and Blues have both been guilty of that at times this season.

It's not often we see the Crusaders go in as underdogs, but this week in Hamilton on the back of that big trip back from Africa they go in with nothing to lose.

To me that makes them a dangerous beast. This is the Crusaders' chance to make a real statement and they've got everything to play for.

The Chiefs certainly aren't invincible. They're confident but they haven't found that consistency in their game yet.

The key for the Crusaders will be how they manage their week. If they get that part of the formula right - less is best after the big flight home - then they will fancy their chances of an upset.

The Press