NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson is predicting that the draw for the expanded Super Rugby competition is going to play a bigger role than ever.
The 18-team competition, including new teams from Japan, Argentina and South Africa, will get under way next week, with matches being played in seven countries including Fiji and Singapore.
The new format includes two less derbies for each Australian team, a disappointment to some, including Queensland Reds’ coach Richard Graham.
The competition has been divided into two regional groups, one of which is Australasian with separate five-team Australian and New Zealand conferences.
The second is an African group of two four-team conferences comprising six franchises from that country plus the Japanese and Argentinian newcomers.
The six derby matches apart, the five Australian teams will play each of the New Zealand sides and all of the franchises from one of the African conferences.
Three of the South African teams will not play any New Zealand sides prior to a revised finals format in which the top team from each conference automatically qualifies for a new quarter finals phase.
They will be joined in the last eight by four wildcards – the next three best Australasian group teams and one from the Africas.
“I think the draw probably more so than ever is going to have a big effect on who qualifies,” Gibson told AAP.
“Everyone will say `you’ve got to win each game’ and you do.
“But I’m sure there are some teams looking around scratching their head going around (saying) `man we’ve got a tough schedule.”
Graham said he thought the expansion was a good concept though he would reserve judgment until the end of the season.
“Probably the only thing that’s disappointing for us as a franchise is we’re not playing every Australian side twice,” Graham said.
“That’s now become a traditional and important part of our rugby calendar and that’s probably the one thing I think we’ll miss.”
His Force counterpart Michael Foley was excited about the draw which for the first time in several years pits Australian franchises against all the New Zealand sides.
“The area of the competition we’re in, against the Australian-New Zealand teams is a very exciting one; very challenging,” Foley told AAP.
Injured Queensland captain and Wallabies prop James Slipper doubted the new format would cause too many problems.
“It doesn’t bother me, you turn up to play each weekend, and if that means you travel halfway across the world then you do it,” Slipper told AAP.
“I don’t think it will have much of an affect on the Australian teams.”