Rugby matters

Involving Japan requires transforming the Trans-Tasman into a champions league

If the main issue for New Zealand Rugby is increased injuries and player welfare due to the intensity of a straight Super Rugby Aotearoa, then simply follow the European model and play Super Rugby Trans-Tasman throughout Super Rugby Aotearoa on designated weekends.

This would give the New Zealand teams plenty of breaks from playing each other. It would also allow Australia to keep Super Rugby AU while getting continual exposure to the New Zealand teams throughout.

Because there are only 18 weeks or so in which to fit any model between the end of February and the July Tests, Super Rugby Trans-Tasman would be divided into three divisions: Cup, Shield and Plate (for want of better names).

In the Cup division, you would have the top two teams from Super Rugby Aotearoa and the top two from Super Rugby AU. In the Shield division, you would have the next two best teams (third and fourth) from each and in the Plate division, you would have teams placed fifth and sixth from each.

Within each division, you would play everyone not from your own domestic competition twice, home and away, for four games plus a final for five weeks total. And you end up with a Cup, Shield and Plate winner.

The rankings for Super Rugby Trans-Tasman would be based on the previous year’s Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa. If a team wants to move up into a higher division of the champions league, they need to embrace the challenge of improving their position in their respective domestic competition.

Now if the format of Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa is a home-and-away double round-robin with six teams each, including finals, you would need 12 weeks plus five weeks for the champions league plus one bye for 18 weeks. A perfect fit.

Cullen Grace of the Crusaders runs with the ball.

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

The Super Rugby season would look as follows:

Week 1: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 2: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 3: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 4: Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Round 1
Week 5: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 6: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 7: Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Round 2
Week 8: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 9: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa (week off for all Test players in camp)

Week 10: Anzac Day Bledisloe Cup (week off for all non-Test players)

Week 11: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 12: Super Rugby Trans-Tasman round 3
Week 13: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 14: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 15: Super Rugby Trans-Tasman round 4

Week 16: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa (semi-final)
Week 17: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa (final)
Week 18: Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final for each division: Cup, Shield, Plate

However, if we are serious about involving the Japanese teams and creating a revenue-rich, power-house rugby-block in the Asia-Pacific region, then this format easily allows for Super Rugby Trans-Tasman to be transformed into a champions league involving all 12 teams from Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby AU and the best teams from Japan’s Top League.

In the Cup division, you would simply add the top two teams from the Top League, the next two best teams from the Top League (third and fourth) to the Shield division, and teams placed fifth and sixth in the Top League to the Plate division.

Jake McIntyre of the Force looks to pass the ball

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

No extra weeks would be needed. Within each division, you would play everyone not from your own domestic competition once for four games plus a final for five weeks total. And again, you end up with a Cup, Shield and Plate winner.

Every team would still get a minimum of two home games and two away games each in the champions league.

The season would run similarly. So for example:

Week 1: SR AU/Aotearoa/Top League
Week 2: SR AU/Aotearoa/Top League
Week 3: SR AU/Aotearoa/Top League
Week 4: Champions league Round 1
Week 5: SR AU/Aotearoa/Top League
Week 6: SR AU/Aotearoa/Top League
Week 7: Champions league Round 2
Week 8: SR AU/Aotearoa/Top League
Week 9: SR AU/Aotearoa/Top League (week off for all Test players in camp)

Week 10: Anzac Day Bledisloe Cup (week off for all non-Test players)

Week 11: SR AU/Aotearoa/Top League
Week 12: Champions league Round 3
Week 13: SR AU/Aotearoa/Top League
Week 14: SR AU/Aotearoa/Top League
Week 15: Champions league Round 4

Week 16: SR AU/Aotearoa/Top League (semi-final)
Week 17: SR AU/Aotearoa/Top League (final)
Week 18: Champions league final for each division: Cup, Shield, Plate

Every team from Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa would be involved in the champions league at some level, and every team would get a minimum of seven home games and seven away games each year.

And again, the New Zealand teams would get plenty of ‘breaks’ throughout Super Rugby Aotearoa with games against Australian and Japanese teams.

While divisions in the champions league are necessary in order to fit within the 18-week window, they also keep the best New Zealand teams only playing the best Australian and Japanese teams, and the lower-ranked Australian and Japanese teams only playing the lower-ranked New Zealand teams. This is important to help make games more competitive with fewer blowout scores (hopefully!).

In any case, the season is only short and the rankings within Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa will change from year to year. Teams will be able to improve and move up divisions in the champions league pretty easily.

So forget the debate about whether we should move to a full-season trans-Tasman in 2022 or keep the current format of Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa followed by Super Rugby trans-Tasman.

Any format for Super Rugby needs to fit with an engaging champions league for fans and spectators from all countries involved in the Asia-Pacific region. That’s where the big money is.

The next step would be to invite Japan to be part of the Rugby Championship.

Original source: https://www.theroar.com.au/2021/05/28/involving-japan-requires-transforming-the-trans-tasman-into-a-champions-league/

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