Hollywoodbets Sports Blog: Super Rugby 2020: Is There A Plan B?

Super Rugby 2020: Is There A Plan B?

Is There A Plan B?

Darry Worthington takes a look at how Super Rugby has been dealt a hammer blow by the ongoing Covid 19 crisis.

Every industry in the world is suffering due to the Covid 19 pandemic, and the sports sector is no different with most sporting leagues - be it amateur or professional - having been suspended over the past fortnight.

While most of the world's football leagues will be able to survive the massive financial hit that the virus has brought on, rugby is a different beast entirely. The big leagues in Europe like the Top 14, Gallagher Premiership and PRO14 should come out the end of the crisis in decent nick - although a number of clubs will have lower budgets to operate on for the next two or so years be - the Southern hemisphere's flagship club competition, Super Rugby, may be dead and buried should SANZAR be forced to pull the plug on the current campaign.

When Was Super Rugby Suspended
Last Sunday's Round 7 clash between the Brumbies and Waratahs was the final game before the season was indefinitely put on ice. This decision was made after New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced late on Saturday evening that strict border rules would be implemented in the country due to Covid 19.

The announcement also had an effect on the Round 7 action with Jaguares versus Highlanders game being called off.

What Is The Current Situation
While SANZAR officials have held multiple meetings this week, there hasn't been much news in the way of when or if the tournament will return this year. The tournament is currently suspended for a minimum of two weeks, although it is likely to be a lot longer than that.

Why is The Super Rugby Season Under Threat
I find myself in a rather fortunate position at the moment. I'm currently living and working in Vietnam, which has been the pacesetter when it comes to tackling Covid 19.

For those of you not familiar with South East Asian geography, Vietnam shares a mass massive land border with China; The epicentre of the initial breakout, the city of Wuhan in China, is about the same distance away from Vietnam's capital, Hanoi as Johannesburg is from Cape Town. Despite being so close to China, Vietnam has managed to do a splendid job in controlling the virus with only 56 cases and no deaths at the time of writing.

The reason why Vietnam has succeeded in keeping the virus under control was the response of the government in early January when the news of a new virus started coming. Schools were shut down. National sports leagues were cancelled and people were advised to avoid bars and follow health advice.

The above two paragraphs weren't meant to serve as a few lines for me to talk about my life and the nation I currently live in but to rather highlight how an effective response from a country can help avoid mass deaths. If you take a look at Italy's response compared to Vietnam - the Italians failed to shut down their football leagues and other events where there were mass gatherings and are now paying the price - you can see how dangerous it is to just brush it aside and continue with daily life as normal.

With mass outbreaks in Italy, England and the United States - three countries which were rather lax when it came to tackling the virus - countries who are just experiencing the first wave of Covid 19 infections are earring on the side of caution when it comes to combating this epidemic.

Last week saw New Zealand enact a law that required travellers to quarantine for 14 days on arrival in New Zealand. This has made it logistically impossible for Super Rugby to continue, especially considering Australia followed suit a day after New Zealand announced the implementation of quarantine periods.

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa also announced this week that gatherings of over 100 people will be banned in the country. This has added another obstacle for Super Rugby officials, who will need to pull off a minor miracle if the season is to continue in its current form.

Why is Calling Off the Season a Hammer Blow to Southern Hemisphere Rugby
It's no secret that SANZAR is struggling financially at the minute. A mass player exodus and a confusing Super Rugby tournament system have seen what was once the world's premier rugby tournament turn into a rather dilute product that struggles to capture the attention of viewers like it did in the early to mid-2000s.

Fan attendance has been on a study downhill trend for a number of years now. This has hit franchise coffers hards as well as SANZAR's own pockets. And while T.V viewership has also been on the wain, there's still enough people watching the tournament to ensure sponsor's stay onboard, and in turn that the tournament turns a profit.

The country that will suffer the most at the hands of a tournament cancellation will undoubtedly be Australia. The ARFU is really struggling to prop up the Australian franchises at present - that's actually the reason they got rid of the Western Force a few years ago. They could well go bankrupt should the tournament not get back underway and the money start coming in again.

Moving away from just Australia's woes and getting back to the competition as a whole. Sponsors need airtime and they won't get that if there's no rugby been shown. T.V broadcasters also want content. So desperately so that Sky TV have been in very deep discussions with the New Zealand Rugby Board about getting an internal tournament going where New Zealand sides will square off against each other for 10 to 12 weeks.

Should Super Rugby shut down for the year, then sponsors may well jump ship along with broadcasters. If these stakeholders went we'd see more players heading for France and England as the salaries on offer in the Southern Hemisphere will be a lot lower than they were at the start of year. 

What Are the Alternatives?
As touched on above, there are some serious talks going on about starting internal tournaments to fill the void left by the absence of Super Rugby. New Zealand are the front-runners in regards to this plan with New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson stating on Wednesday morning that ""We're quite excited about what we're starting to develop with our Super clubs and Sky obviously heavily involved… this is a process which is quite complex and detailed,"

He continued "We'd like to think by the end of the week we'd be in a position to share more detail. But it's obvious it will be around a domestic-shaped competition and we've got around 10 to 12 weeks to provide some rugby product for our fans."

Australia have also been touting this idea, which would also involve the Sunwolves who have been playing their games out of Australia due to a large amount of Covid cases in Japan and Singapore.

No news has come out of South Africa yet but the Varsity Cup was postponed this week which makes for grim reading. If South Africa was to go the route of New Zealand and Australia, it would leave Argentina in a rather tough situation as they would be stranded at home without any opposition. The likelihood is that they would come back to South Africa and play in the inter-conference tournament that's being touted or that they would front up to a couple South American national teams like Uruguay and Brazil.

While Argentina may be forced to remain in South America, there would be no shortage of teams to set up a domestic South African competition as the PRO14 is also on a hiatus which would mean the Southern Kings and Free State Cheetahs could also appear in the all-South African tournament.

Is Super Rugby Likely to Return this Year?
While I really hope I am wrong, I cannot see the tournament running as it was with teams playing against franchises from other nations.  Super Rugby CEO Andy Marinos has already stated that they will cancel the tournament if it is delayed for longer than four weeks. And with some experts thinking the Covid virus hasn't yet reached near its peak infection rate, it's unlikely the travel restrictions will get any lighter.

There will be rugby, however. It may take a couple weeks to get the domestic foe versus foe tournaments in place but it will happen.

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