OPINION: The inclusion of other nations into Super Rugby is imminent.
With the heralded success of Argentina's integration into the Tri-Nations, igniting a competition that had begun to lose its luster after fifteen seasons, the same must happen with Super Rugby.
Where the current Super Rugby layout has home conferences, which include home and away derby games (with a sprinkling of overseas travel during the round robin stages), the expansion of this format to include other nations would be welcome.
The initial inclusion of teams from the Pacific Islands, Japan, Canada, The United States of America and Argentina would expand the global footprint of Rugby Union and create further excitement in an already successful format.
How the layout would work is debatable, but the inclusion of ITM Cup teams instead of franchises could be the biggest change to the New Zealand conference structure.
The ITM Cup from August-October would be the qualification process for the Super Rugby conference the following year. The exclusion of All Blacks during the ITM Cup due to Rugby Championship commitments would even-up the provincial teams, making for a much more interesting format.
There would be no split Premiership/Championship nonsense but a straight league table where the top teams qualify for Super Rugby. A twelve-team layout with promotion and relegation from, and to, a second tier championship would make an exciting competition and bring interest back to the historically important New Zealand rugby system.
In this day and age of drafting throughout the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises, the All Blacks would be distributed throughout the ITM Cup teams that qualified; the same would be for any other top players that came from teams that did not qualify.
Any fears that may be had with players leaving New Zealand if they did not pick up a Super Rugby contract would be allayed by either loaning them to European teams during Super Rugby (for a fee of course) or allow them to join a Japanese Super Rugby team so they could still be eligible for the All Blacks (playing in the same competition and all).
The time has come for the grass roots of New Zealand rugby to be integrated into the professional era by including the National Provincial Championship (ITM Cup) in the Super Rugby setup. The importance of bringing back the heart and soul that has served us so well over the last 100 years would only keep the interest in the clubs that feed our provinces at every age grade.
As a Waikato supporter I would love to see the Red, Yellow and Black stripes of our province competing at the highest level against the best the Southern Hemisphere has to offer.