Australia and New Zealand would form their own Australasian rugby competition under an alternative to Super Rugby being considered for 2016 and beyond.
Under one of three secret proposals being discussed among the SANZAR nations of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, with input from Argentina, South Africa would splinter from the current Super Rugby tournament and form its own competition with at least six teams and, potentially, an Argentinian side.
The Australian and New Zealand provinces would form a second grouping and potentially welcome an Asian side to their competition in future seasons.
The proposal would take effect when the new broadcasting rights deal ticks over in 2016. SANZAR wants to have a decision agreed by the end of this year to give all parties enough time to plan under the new framework if one is agreed.
The push has been engineered by the South African Rugby Union, who have two teams, the Kings and Lions, locked in a hugely unpopular promotion-relegation battle to decide which one takes the conference’s fifth spot in Super Rugby next year. SARU wants to enlarge its permanent footprint to six teams, an increase that would render the conference system unworkable.
The Australian and New Zealand national unions were initially satisfied with the current format, subject to some smaller tweaks, but are understood to have been swayed by the potential benefits of the proposed model.
It is believed a trans-Tasman competition, even with the inclusion of an Asian team, could lead to more derbies, meaning more gate-takings for provinces and an enhanced domestic flavour in home markets, simpler time-zone considerations for broadcasters and less travel for players. The player-welfare issue has been simmering for some time as the Super Rugby and international seasons increasingly bleed into each other.
This year promises to be among the toughest yet for Test players, with a long Super Rugby season, the gruelling British and Irish Lions series, the Rugby Championship plus a third Bledisloe Cup match, and an extraordinary five-Test tour of Europe in November.
The proposed new model would not affect the Rugby Championship and is one of three options on the table. The alternatives are retaining the established conference system or expanding the competition further to Asia and the United States and Canada.
”The challenge is with a limited number of weeks in the year, how do you create a competition that has integrity in its structure, keeps everyone involved and satisfies the needs of the three main countries?” SANZAR chief Greg Peters said.
All parties are believed to be in favour of working out a solution that includes South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, but SARU’s domestic political environment is proving the sticking point.
The Port Elizabeth-based Kings, who replaced the Lions in Super Rugby this year, face their Johannesburg-based opponents in the first of two promotion-relegation matches this weekend after just one season in the competition.