New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson says Covid-19 has forced a significant rethink on Super Rugby.
New Zealand Rugby revealed plans on Friday to cull South African teams and Argentina’s Jaguares from Super Rugby next year, in what would be a ruthless shake-up for the struggling competition, TimesLive reported.
NZR’s planned revamp of the flagship southern hemisphere club tournament would contain New Zealand’s five existing teams, two to four from Australia and one newcomer from the Pacific, giving the sprawling competition a strong trans-Tasman focus.
South Africa, which co-founded Super Rugby in 1996 with Australia and New Zealand, would see its five teams dumped, along with the Buenos Aires-based Jaguares.
NZR chief executive Mark Robinson blamed the Covid-19 pandemic for the “extremely tough” decisions made around the new competition, saying it meant long-distance travel was impossible.
“We have a huge amount of sympathy for what’s happening to rugby in Argentina and South Africa and their inability to play at the moment and the uncertainty that’s creating,” he said.
The coronavirus halted this year’s Super Rugby season in March, forcing New Zealand and Australia to set up domestic versions of the competition, while South African clubs and the Jaguares remain sidelined.
Rugby Australia acknowledged NZR’s plans in a brief statement, recognising the need to review Super Rugby’s “sustainability and practicality” in the current environment.
RA will want all four of Australia’s existing Super Rugby teams included after undergoing bitter internal ructions when the Perth-based Western Force was dropped in 2017.
However, it may have little choice, with RA chairman Hamish McLennan last week saying the relationship between the two unions was “a bit master-servant”, with New Zealand holding the whip hand.
Proposals for a Pacific team in the past have suggested players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga who could all be based in Auckland, but Robinson declined to say what NZR had in mind.
He was also unable to provide details of whether governing body SANZAAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby) would oversee the new competition, the club ownership structure or even whether it would be called Super Rugby.