INTERVIEW-Rugby-Management key for longest Super Rugby season
SYDNEY Feb 23 (Reuters) - Super Rugby teams will have to change the way they manage their squads to cope with the longest ever season in the southern hemsiphere's annual provincial championship, according to SANZAR chief Greg Peters.
There were rumblings of an injury crisis in New Zealand last year after a new format was introduced with a five-team conference in each of the three SANZAR countries and a commensurate increase in hard-fought local derbies.
Although there will be no more matches this year than last, the season stretches from its launch on Friday to the final on Aug. 4 with a three-week international break in June.
That makes for an extremely arduous season for the top players, who are also likely to play test rugby, and increases the likelihood teams will have to use all the playing resources available to them.
"I think it's going to require a different management of those squads with the international players going off for three weeks and coming back, possibly with injuries, and the young players continuing to train," Peters told Reuters in an interview.
"I think it's going to be very much suck and see how the coaches and teams manage that.
"There is, under the new format, less travel and more domestic games and perhaps that three-week window will give our players who aren't involved in internationals a chance to refresh before the final three weeks of round robin and the finals."
Peters, who was appointed to run SANZAR on the eve of the last Super Rugby season, said results of last year's changes was positive with crowds at local derbies up by 4,000 on the matches they replaced.
"I think year one of the new format was largely a big success," he said.
"That's what the fans have wanted to see is the local derbies, mate against mate ... they're loving it and to have that home and away every year is a great benefit.
"It was really positive in the Australian market, solid in South Africa and some issues in New Zealand with the crowds, a bit of World Cup fatigue and people's money gone and earthquakes and so on."
WORLD CUP DIVIDEND?
Last year's deadly Christchurch earthquake left the seven-times champions Canterbury Crusaders homeless and added to problems caused by some disappointing crowds in New Zealand.
Peters is hoping, however, for a World Cup dividend this year in his native land.
"The All Blacks winning the World Cup is very important for New Zealand, not only in a rugby but also in a country context," he said.
"Hopefully we can use some of the euphoria around that and take it into Super Rugby and certainly there's an added sense of anticipation about this season's competition.
"At the end of the of the day we don't control that, it's down to New Zealand rugby and their own franchises to market the competition and hopefully some of that goodwill and euphoria will carry over to Super Rugby."
Peters has already scotched South African hopes of an extra franchise to allow the Southern Kings to join a 16-team competition from next year, and said expansion was highly unlikely to be revisited for another three years.
"The new conference format system has, by its nature, an equal number teams in each country or it doesn't work," he said.
"And we have sold that format to our broadcasters and commercial partners through to 2015 so that is the next time we could realistically consider expansion."
One result of the Crusaders' plight last season was their match against South Africa's Sharks in front of 35,000 at Twickenham in London.
At the time, Peters was quoted as saying he would like to see more such matches but now says there are major obstacles to a repeat.
"London was a huge success in showcasing Super Rugby as a brand in the northern hemisphere. In terms of commercial success, not so much," he said.
"Looking forward, we would want to be pretty careful about how often we did that. We've sold those games to broadcaster and commercial partners in our own territories.
"And also the fans, they want to see their teams playing at home not in London. So there are some pretty big factors commercially and in terms of brand that would determine whether we would do that again in the same way.
"You do it for brand purposes to reap potential commercial benefits in the future but that's got to be balanced against what you've sold and what your fans want." (Editing by Peter Rutherford) (For the sports blog Left Field go to: blogs.reuters.com/sport))
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