The game they play in ... Spain: The rugby minnows are in SANZAR's grand plans for Super Rugby expansion that also include a Singapore side.

The game they play in ... Spain: The rugby minnows are in SANZAR's grand plans for Super Rugby expansion that also include a Singapore side. Photo: Reuters

The quest for an expanded Super Rugby competition in 2016 involves a weird combination of Waiting For Godot and herding cats.

The Super Rugby competition started its life as a 10-team, three-nation (Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) competition. It morphed into a 12-team competition called Super Rugby in 1996 when rugby went professional. Then it became a 14-team competition then finally 15 teams, with each of three SANZAR conferences containing five teams playing home and away matches within the conference, and one-off matches with most of the other teams.

The herding cats element of this system was that the intra-conference home and away matches was a creation by the ARU’s John O’Neill to pump up Australian rugby content. Australian lacks a third-tier national tournament. South Africa has the Currie Cup, and New Zealand has its provincial ITM tournament. The ARU intends to start its own provincial-type tournament later this year. Irrespective of this, the NZRU and the SARU want an end to the intra-conference home and away matches.

Under the herding cats dispensation, the 2016 Super Rugby competition will have an additional South African side, the Kings. Why? Because the SARU insists on this. With the advent of the Kings, the neat three-conference system is blown away. An Argentinian team will also come in. Why? Whatever the reasons, they’ve never been cogently argued by SANZAR.

Now comes the Waiting For Godot part of the search. SANZAR has made it clear that the 2016 arrangement will be a holding action for a different Super Rugby competition format in 2021.

Some of the suggestions for 2016, however, involve more notions of the theatre of the absurd. How about a side from Spain, for instance? South Africa is said to be supportive of this crazy idea. RUPA, Australia’s player trade union, reckons (correctly) that if Spain comes in, why not Greenland?

If there is an 18th team in 2016, however, it could come from that rugby stronghold, Singapore. The Straits Times recently published a well-informed case for Singapore. A new 55,000-seater National Stadium will stage the inaugural World Cup 10s Championship there in June. The Singapore Rugby Union intends to beef up its national league to semi-professional level. The new Singapore Super Rugby side in waiting, a team from players around Asia, could play against the Maori All Blacks. And the SRU is looking to hold some Super Rugby games in cities such as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.

The one thing missing from all these considerations is whether supporters actually want to watch any of these new teams play. SANZAR has seldom bothered to be open with its supporters about where the Super Rugby tournament might be heading, and why. The notion of user-friendly seems to be beyond SANZAR.

From its outset and continuing it seems, SANZAR has taken a take-it or leave-it attitude with the rugby public. On-field controversies such as the absurd accusation a couple of years ago by the Bulls that they were eye-gouged twice in the same match by the Crusaders are buried by SANZAR. The names of most of the teams still baffle supporters. Which province do the Bulls represent? The Hurricanes? Or the RaboDirect Rebels? Why not insist on a location with the title, as in the NSW Waratahs? So, the Pretoria Bulls, the Wellington Hurricanes and the Melbourne Rebels. This naming system has the further advantage of making the international element in Super Rugby obvious.

Then there is the SANZAR connivance with teams wearing similar colours that mystify spectators and players, as when the Waratahs played the Force, and when the Force played the Rebels last weekend. There is insistence, too, on a local referees system for intra-conference matches and even finals. Fervent supporters hate this system, which leads to “we wuz robbed” accusations.

SANZAR gets the small things consistently wrong. Is it too absurd to believe it will get its big decisions right?

Footnote: Last week I implied that NSW did not have a Friends of Rugby Group. Waratahs Rugby have informed me that last year the NSW Friends of Rugby Group was created.