His answer is simple: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” I hope this won’t be the case when we look back at the aftermath of Super Rugby’s failed 18- team format 10 years from now.
First we had the Cheetahs and Southern Kings cut from the new 15-team format and rushed into an expansion of the Northern Hemisphere’s Pro12, which we’ll get to, and now the financial backer of the other unlucky team to get the snip, the Western Force, are planning to start their own league nogal.
The sun had hardly set on the Perth-based franchise losing their court appeal against their chop yesterday and mining magnate Twiggy Forrest announces to the world that he is planning a rebel league in the Indo-Pacific region involving six teams that will commence “as soon as possible”. “If we go into the Indo-Pacific region, that’s where the world’s economic growth is, that’s where the world’s population is and that’s where the game of rugby will be very powerful and centred from Western Australia,” Forrest proclaimed.
One minute the man wants to throw $40 million at the Aussie rugby bosses for keeping the Force in Super Rugby, and the next he plans a cunning coup via rugby backwaters. Doesn’t make sense. Let’s say his millions somehow managed to keep the Force in Super Rugby, would he have cared one bit about the Indo-Pacific region? My guess is no.
And why the rush? One of the reasons Super Rugby’s 18-team format flopped is because of the rush to push a team like the Sunwolves, whose sparse planning and ill-fated structures not only cost them dearly, but the overall Super Rugby product as well. And please don’t tell me the billionaire thinks he can take over the rugby world by selling a second-grade series between the Force, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and two other God-knows-who teams to the masses in Asia.
The biggest role players in Asia, India and China, are happy watching cricket and English Premier League respectively. Just this week the IPL’s television rights for the next five years were sold for a staggering $2.55 billion. And the EPL is growing by the minute across Asia.
I get the importance behind including teams from the region if you want to sell it to the area, but for those islands to lure back their best players from Europe and Australasia in order to beef up the teams – and the overall product – will take years of perseverance and probably a helluva lot more than $40 million. As for the path taken by the Force’s cross-Atlantic rivals the Cheetahs and Kings, I have my reservations too.
I remember one of the constant complaints coming out the constant expansion of the Super Rugby format was that it took forever to complete. These poor guys started playing Super Rugby in early February, went straight into six rounds of the Currie Cup and have ventured straight into the Pro14 on September 1 … which only finishes nine months later in May.
That doesn’t even seem like a good idea now, let alone with the luxury of hindsight.