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Less can be more when league expansion leads to contraction of interest

Brendan Fanning


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PRO12 CEO Martin Anayi. Photo: Carl Fourie/Sportsfile

PRO12 CEO Martin Anayi. Photo: Carl Fourie/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

PRO12 CEO Martin Anayi. Photo: Carl Fourie/Sportsfile

On a bitingly cold winter's day in May 1992, the small press corps covering Ireland's tour of New Zealand settled into our crap motel in Christchurch. It was the last stage of the first leg of a marathon journey, and getting some heat into the room was a priority. Turning on the television added some warmth to the scene. Yes, we were desperate. As a bonus it allowed us the comfort of watching Canterbury and Queensland, a few miles away in Lancaster Park, coping with the elements outside.

That was our first introduction to Super Rugby - the Super Six as it was then: three New Zealand provinces (Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington), two from Australia (Queensland and New South Wales) and Fiji. It was actually the second incarnation of cross-border Pacific competition, and pretty soon it would jump in size every time you looked at it. It got to a point where the number of teams had stretched to 18, covering Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan. Have a look at the map. It was an offence to nature, one that fans largely abandoned.

The ambition to expand was all about growth: as in, growing the TV deal. If South Africa wasn't on the end of the African continent and instead drifted east, let's say dropping anchor in the Tasman, you could probably throw a couple of rope bridges into place and bingo: Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, homes to the best players in the rugby world, would be tucked up together. And you would have the perfect model: a top quality cross-border competition that didn't involve destroying your body clock, didn't require fans to set their alarm clocks, and would generate top tv dollar.