If you’re a new rugby fan, entranced by the spectacle that characterizes the sport, you must watch Super Rugby.
What is Super Rugby? To put it simply, Super Rugby is the top transnational league for the Southern Hemisphere (and, recently, Japan). In a sense, it’s not unlike the Copa America, the regional, South American football tournament; though smaller than FIFA’s World Cup, which sweeps television rankings each year, Copa America is a prestigious event in its own right.
In much the same way, Super Rugby features eighteen teams from five countries. South Africa, my birthplace, has the largest number of teams: six, one each based in Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg, and Durban. Australia and New Zealand each have five teams, and Argentina and Japan one team each.
Still, there are some design flaws: because Argentina and Japan are relatively new additions, they are grouped with the South Africa region, rather than the Australasia region (which encompasses the 10 teams from Australia and New Zealand). This is likely an issue of numbers: organizers probably wanted to balance out the number of teams in each group, to both make for more exciting play (as well as a more level playing field).
Super Rugby is the spiritual descendant of the South Pacific Championship, a four-year promotion that existed from 1986 to 1990. After the demise of the South Pacific Championship, three nations (Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand) launched a six-team competition. Super 6 was followed by Super 10 (notable for being post-apartheid South Africa’s first admission), a greatly expanded promotion; by 2011, Super Rugby took its current form, comprising 15 teams. Japan and Argentina were added in 2016, even as the promotion promised that it would contract again to 15 teams.
Though there is plenty of negative media attention nowadays about the perceived greed and corruption at Super Rugby (constant negotiations over broadcast revenue, match-fixing, and backdoor deals with property developers), the promotion was, and still has, a noble goal: to serve as the pre-eminent rugby promotion in the Southern Hemisphere. The question, however, remains the same: can Super Rugby scale sustainably? Will they continue to cooperate, or will they instead fall to the same infighting that consumed organizations like FIFA?