Back to the future: Breaking down the old-new Super Rugby for 2018

The Crusaders celebrate with the Super Rugby trophy Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

SANZAAR has released its draw for the next Super Rugby season which has reverted to the 15-team format it adopted between 2011 and 2015.

Some of the big changes see the competition return to a three-conference format with the Sunwolves from Japan leaving 'Africa' and replacing the Western Force in Australia.

ESPN has picked out four major talking points from Thursday's draw release and how they'll have an impact on Super Rugby in 2018.

"12 out of 14 ain't bad"

In the last two seasons of the much-maligned Super Rugby we had 18 teams with each side playing 15 games, but because of the four-conference system you didn't actually play everyone.

Last year the Lions and the remainder of the teams that made up the now defunct 'Africa 2' conference avoided facing the heavily fancied New Zealand sides throughout the regular season, making it a smoother path to the playoffs.

With three teams cut, and the competition reverting back to a three conference system, each Super Rugby team will face 12 of the 14 teams, and miss out on one franchise from outside of their respective conference.

So for the Lions to get through to a third consecutive final, they'll have to face everyone except the Chiefs and Rebels.

The travel itinerary is skewed

While you'll see your side play eight local derbies, as opposed to six last season, by playing more teams as explained above there'll inevitably be more long-haul travel. The Waratahs pulled the short straw here.

They will become the first side to play in all five countries that feature in Super Rugby within the space of a season.

The Waratahs open their campaign in Sydney against the Stormers before heading to Durban to face the Sharks, then jet to Buenos Aires the following week to take on the Jaguares. Four weeks later they head to Tokyo for the challenge of the Sunwolves before finally meeting the Crusaders in Christchurch in Week 13.

The Reds will also play in all five countries. The Highlanders, meanwhile, don't go to Japan or Argentina.

Player demand increases with local derbies

While the fans love local derbies, the players involved felt that less was more.

In New Zealand, arguably the toughest conference of the three, players felt that the inter-conference games were only a small step down from Test level and were taking a greater toll on the body.

Unfortunately for them, money talks and the local derbies are the most popular element of the tournament from a broadcast perspective.

So, while we see two extra local clashes, we might see an increased injury count.

The playoff picture makes slightly more sense

The biggest shambles of Super Rugby over the last two seasons was the qualifying system for the playoffs.

Last year the Brumbies [34 points] awarded a home quarterfinal by virtue of winning the Australian conference while the Blues [37 points] missed out on the finals altogether.

Next year the three conference winners will automatically qualify, but there'll be five wildcard spots awarded to the next best based on points.

At the same time though, over half the competition will make the finals. Seems a bit excessive, but this is SANZAAR after all.