New Zealand set to launch tournament featuring Australian and Pasifika teams in 2021

New Super Rugby competition on the cards

New Zealand Rugby has revealed plans to launch a new competition in 2021 – and it doesn’t include South African teams.

NZR’s Aratipu review looked at a future model for Super Rugby and the aim is to establish a new competition from next year featuring eight to ten teams.

Those teams would include the five New Zealand franchises – Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes – a Pasifika team and Australian sides, with the union looking for ‘expressions of interest’ from across the Tasman.

There has long been talk of Super Rugby, which involves sides from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and more recently Argentina and Japan, being restructured given the amount of travel involved as well as the complexity of the modern conference format. The Covid-19 crisis has expedited that process, particularly given the travel restrictions in place across the globe.

This latest move increases the likelihood of rugby competitions moving towards time zones rather than hemispheres, with the prospect of more or different South African sides joining the Guinness Pro14 already being mooted.

New Super Rugby competition

Due North: Will SA sides the Sharks and Bulls be playing in the Pro14 next year? (Getty Images)

That scenario certainly makes more sense than the traditional Super Rugby model given the strain on players of so much long-haul travel as well as the financial implications – and that’s before you consider the impact of all those flights on climate change.

The New Zealand-only Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament has already attracted large crowds while including a Pacific Islands team in a new format would be popular with fans as well as benefit those national teams.

The Mercury Group, which has secured a Major League Rugby licence for its Kanaloa Hawaii team from next year, is already in discussions with NZR about bidding for a place in the new competition.

Related: Professional rugby reaches Hawaii

NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said: “Coming on the back of Covid-19 and its impact on future competitions, the NZR Board has committed to establishing a new professional team competition in 2021. We have also been heartened by the success of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa.

“The focus is now on confirming the licenses for New Zealand’s five current Super Rugby clubs and that work is now underway.

“As well, there is a huge desire to have a Pasifika team involved which we think will be massive for the competition, popular with fans and is a priority for us. As we know, our Pacific nations and Pasifika players in New Zealand have added so much to the rich history of rugby in Oceania and our game here in New Zealand. To have a team that would provide an additional pathway for Pasifika players to perform on the world stage would be hugely exciting.

“We will also be working with Rugby Australia to seek expressions of interest from their current Super clubs and other interested parties to join the competition and that work will begin in earnest.”

The next step is setting out criteria for those teams who want to make an expression of interest in joining the new competition.

New Super Rugby competition

Return: Western Force are playing in the Super Rugby AU competition (Getty Images)

Yet there are many questions still remaining. What about existing SANZAAR contracts? Could Western Force get a place in the new competition ahead of one of Australia’s current Super Rugby franchises – Brumbies, Rebels, Reds and Waratahs?

If South Africa grow their involvement in the Pro14, what teams will play in the league and will they also join the European competitions? Where does this leave Argentina, whose Jaguares side were in the Super Rugby final 12 months ago?

And what about Japan – will they want to have a pro side playing in one of these competitions or will they focus on launching a new league themselves?

Many of those questions will need to be answered before a new competition format can be confirmed.

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