Former All Black Andrew Mehrtens believes that if New Zealand and Australia want to compete with the riches of northern-hemisphere clubs, they should disband from South Africa and Argentina and move into Asia.
Mehrtens feels scrapping Vodacom Super Rugby and creating a new competition across Asia would help reduce the problem of Australian and Kiwi Super Rugby franchises losing their young talent to clubs in the UK, Europe and Japan.
Speaking to ESPN ahead of the upcoming season, Mehrtens said that southern-hemisphere rugby’s premier club competition needs to be abolished, and that a new competition should be created which would include teams from Asia.
‘Going forward if we push into Asia, if we can develop a competition that’s in the same time zone I think it’s going to be a better product,’ said the former All Blacks flyhalf.
‘I’ve said for a long time, we need to drop South Africa – as much as I love South Africa – logistically it’s a pain in the a**, same with Argentina. Argentina needs to go up their time zone with the USA; South Africa should probably start developing franchises in Dubai or somewhere there, but I think our push is into Asia.’
For a while now, talented young Australian and Kiwi players have been poached by wealthy clubs in Europe and the UK, but now the two nations are also the target of Japan’s Top League. In an attempt to reduce the player exodus, former Wallabies coach Michael Chieka played a key role in Rugby Australia introducing the ‘Giteau Law’, which permitted 60-capped Wallabies based overseas to be eligible for national selection.
South Africa had a similar 30-cap rule which was recently scrapped, while the All Blacks have only ever picked players from their five Super Rugby franchises.
‘We’re up against big northern-hemisphere economies in Europe and England, so Australia being strong as a rugby brand is important to New Zealand as well,’ continued Mehrtens. ‘Australia has a bigger economic footprint into Asia and I’m fully of the belief that’s our future is getting into that market there and helping develop that.
‘If we push into Asia I think at that point New Zealand rugby has got to say, “Well OK, we’re going to allow our players to play offshore so long as they play in our competition.” If they don’t go to France, they don’t go to England or Ireland or whatever; so long as they stay in our competition and it brings teams in this new market for rugby, eventually they’re going to have to face facts and still select them.’
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