South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby (SANZAAR) has announced that the 18-team Super Rugby competition will be restructured in 2018 into a three-conference, 15-team format featuring four South African teams, five from New Zealand, four from Australia, one from Japan and one from Argentina.
The move comes after an extensive consultation with broadcasters, fans and other stakeholders and is aimed at increasing the competitiveness and integrity of fixtures. It will mean that South Africa will have to cut two franchises, with one Australian outfit facing the drop as well.
The two most likely South African candidates to be ousted from the competition are the Southern Kings and the Cheetahs. This would be a bitter pill to swallow for rugby fans in the Eastern Cape and Free State.
While the Super Rugby brains trust have seen fit to retain the Japanese Sunwolves franchise with a view to growing the game in Asia, the loss of the Kings would be a blow to development in South Africa.
Although the men from Port Elizabeth have failed to capitalize on their undoubted potential over the past few seasons and currently lie second from bottom on the combined South African conference – a point above the Sunwolves with a single win from six matches – the franchise is seen as the champion of transformation in rugby and hail from the heartland of black rugby.
Sadly, however, their progress has been stymied by administrative and financial problems and they have been unable to establish any sort of continuity in terms of coaching and playing staff. The likes of Cheetahs flyer Sergeal Petersen, Sharks centre Lukhanyo Am and Stormers fullback SP Marais have all graduated through the ranks in Port Elizabeth.
The Kings were downed 46-41 by another team facing the chop, the Western Force, in an exciting, emotionally charged encounter at the NIB Stadium in Perth on Saturday, while the Cheetahs had a bye ahead of their overseas tour. It is likely that the Kings will once again be amalgamated into the Sharks franchise and the Cheetahs may form part of a Cats team with the Johannesburg-based Lions.
SA Rugby said that it hoped it would be able to confirm its 2018 Super Rugby participants by the end of June 2017.