Radical Changes Proposed Amid Financial Struggles and Team Restructuring


In the wake of Rugby Australia’s (RA) decision to axe the Melbourne Rebels from Super Rugby Pacific, All Blacks legend Sir John Kirwan has suggested a significant overhaul of the tournament’s format. This follows the revelation last week that RA refused a bid from a private consortium to rescue the financially troubled franchise.

The Rebels, who have been in voluntary administration since January with debts exceeding AUS$23 million, including AUS$11.5 million in tax, were running under RA’s management for the 2024 season. Despite a rescue proposal, RA decided to cut the team from the competition at the season's end.

Kirwan believes the tournament, which will be reduced to 11 clubs, needs a new structure. Speaking on The Breakdown, he proposed a biannual 10-game season, followed by regional competitions similar to the Heineken Cup, including teams from Japan and America.

“This is what I think we should suggest,” Kirwan said. “We play 10 games biannually home and away. You play a semi-final and a final, but you don’t play it until we break into our regions and play a Heineken Cup-style competition. We bring Japan in, we bring America in, play that for six weeks.”

Fellow All Blacks legend Jeff Wilson pointed out the practical challenges, noting that such changes couldn’t be implemented by next year. Kirwan agreed, emphasizing the need for governance reforms to enable quicker decisions.

Another former All Black, Mils Muliaina, supported Kirwan's idea and suggested the knockout rounds be structured like the French Top 14. He saw the Rebels’ removal as ultimately beneficial for Australian rugby, despite the immediate sadness.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this is probably a good thing for Australian rugby,” Muliaina said. “It’s going to strengthen the other four sides. It’s unfortunate that it’s got to this point where they’ve had to cull a team. I think in the long run in terms of the competition it might make it a lot better.”

Wilson echoed Muliaina's sentiments, underscoring the financial pressures faced by Australian rugby and the necessity of the Rebels’ culling. He also endorsed Kirwan’s Heineken Cup-style format but highlighted the need for more home games to ensure financial viability.

“Is there enough games if you’ve only got 10 games? It’s only five home games in a season. You talk to any Super Rugby CEO, that’s not enough to sell to sponsors, to sell to the fans in terms of a package,” Wilson said. “I like your Heineken Cup idea, I’ve always liked that, but I think top-six makes sense.”

As Super Rugby Pacific faces a period of transformation, the suggestions from Kirwan and his fellow rugby greats could offer a new direction for the tournament, ensuring its competitive and financial sustainability in the future.

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