Rugby: Sanzaar's Asia focus part of a wider aim

Sanzaar chief executive officer Andy Marinos says "key learning" last year means that the logistical complexities involved in the second year of an 18-team competition will be managed better.
Sanzaar chief executive officer Andy Marinos says "key learning" last year means that the logistical complexities involved in the second year of an 18-team competition will be managed better.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Sunwolves a vital factor as Super Rugby boss outlines commitment to serving the region

Super Rugby's governing body put up a stern defence of the tournament yesterday, even as its format and recent expansion continue to attract criticism just weeks before the new season begins.

South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby (Sanzaar) chief executive officer Andy Marinos said that his governing body is now more adept at coping with the challenges of the competition, and is confident of a better showing when the season starts in Melbourne next month.

In town to discuss the upcoming season, he addressed in particular the performance of the Sunwolves. The team, co-based in Japan and Singapore, endured a tough debut season last year, finishing last with just one win out of 15 games.

"Put it into context," said the South African, a former player himself. "This is arguably the toughest rugby competition in the world. The results for the Sunwolves were, for us, as expected, but they also surprised us in terms of quality of performance and the brand of rugby they played.

"Yes, you can always look at results and say they didn't perform. You can also look at where they started and where they finished, and see there was a big improvement in performance."

He added that the team, an unknown quantity this time last year, are now in a much better position, bolstered by the appointment of head coach Filo Tiatia, a former New Zealand international.

  • Sunwolves at the National Stadium

    •March 4: Kings

    •March 25: Stormers

    •May 20: Sharks Tickets, from $15 (child) and $30 (adult) for one game, are available at Sports Hub Tix.

"It's going to take some time - two to three years - (for new teams) to get used to the intensity of this competition, " said Marinos. "The Sunwolves won a lot of new fans and played an entertaining and exciting brand of rugby."

He also maintained that Super Rugby's expansion, and in particular its foray into Asia, is not motivated by expedience and commercial gain.

Some observers have argued that the disparity in standards between the Sunwolves and their competitors may mean more revenue, but not better rugby.

Marinos said Sanzaar is focused on growing the sport in the region, imparting the values rugby is often associated with, while providing a pathway for aspiring players to make the big stage in the future.

"Yes, (Asia) is a very strong region commercially," he said. "It's a good market to grow, but you have to grow by adding to people's lives, as opposed to just coming and taking the money.

"We've got to be mindful of getting into the schools and to the younger generation, teaching values so that we all become better people and we have a better environment to live in. That's a key driver for us.

"Ultimately, what you want to see in the future is a Sunwolves team or another Asian team represented by local players."

He is confident Super Rugby's second season as an 18-team outfit will be managed better.

When it expanded from 15 to 18 teams last year, it suffered criticism over the convoluted logistical challenges in travelling and playing across four continents.

He said: "When we came into 2016, we had very little time to work with the draw and get as optimal a draw as (possible).

"This year, we've had a lot more time, we know where all our teams are coming from, we've been able to get a (draw that is not perfect, but better).

"There has been key learning, we feel a lot more comfortable and a lot more settled in understanding the complexities of this competition."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'Sanzaar's Asia focus part of a wider aim'. Print Edition | Subscribe