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History of Super Rugby

In order to appreciate just how remarkable the concept of Super Rugby was in its inception, we need to take a look at the rugby landscape in the early 1990s. Southern Hemisphere rugby was a powerful and mysterious force in the global game. Legends like Christian Cullen, 

In South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, the holy grails of rugby were the trophies to the Currie Cup, NPC Division One and Shute Shiels

South African rugby pronked onto the world stage in 1993, and with the pride of Madiba’s rainbow nation behind them, they joined the Super 10 rugby tournament which had previously been played among Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Island teams, and which had been created to accommodate them – and Transvaal won it

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The Super 10 lasted for three years, during which time a South African team appeared in every final. It was replaced in 1996 by the Super 12 tournament, by which time SANZAR (South African, New Zealand and Australian Rugby) had been created and provincial teams were replaced by professionally-run franchises, and the tournament became a slick and marketable brand.

This was a hugely important development in Rugby Union history. In the mid-90s, rugby players were flocking to Australia to play Rugby League – attracted by the lucrative offers there. SANZAR managed to sell the Super 12 tournament to an exclusive broadcaster and blue-chip sponsors. Vodacom was among the very first of these sponsors.

The Super 12 tournament lasted for ten years, during which (apart from a single final in 2001 that was played between the Sharks and Brumbies) it was dominated by the Blues and Crusaders.

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In 2006, the Super 14 was born, with Supersport securing exclusive rights for broadcast in South Africa. New Zealand were reluctant for an extra team from SA and Australia to join the competition but eventually relented to allow the Cheetahs and Western Force to join the tournament. In SA, the lowest finishing SA team was supposed to make way for the Southern Kings to replace them the following year, but this too was scuppered and the Cheetahs stayed on.

The Bulls won every single Super 14 final except for 2006 and 2008 when the Crusaders managed to snatch the title. 

In 2011, the Melbourne Rebels joined the tournament, which simply became known as Super Rugby again, which was a good thing because in 2016 the Sunwolves, Jaguares and Southern Kings entered the suddenly somewhat crowded Super Rugby stage and pundits scratched their heads at the complicated new format. This pressure was alleviated in 2017, when the Cheetahs and Kings went to play Pro14 and the Western Force went to the dark side.

Think South African rugby has been on the downfall in Super Rugby? Consider this: in the last ten years, there has been a South African side in the Super Rugby final six times.

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