While the rebirth of the classic All Blacks trial of yesteryear will provide a headline act, more fundamental work is understood to be taking place in the background that will supersede any short-term solutions for 2020, and trump anything the hastily-formed Aratipu Super Rugby committee might bring to the table.
One source described Aratipu – described this week as a review to grow, regenerate and invigorate Super Rugby – as a front to buy some time and stall licence renegotiations as the real work was done on reshaping New Zealand’s domestic rugby landscape.
Part of that is, as was highlighted by Phil Gifford’s column, the idea of an eight-team professional round robin competition with two extra New Zealand professional franchises joining the five existing Super teams – and a Pasifika side possibly based in Suva.
The Herald has learned there is another option gaining traction, which would see that eight-team competition extended to 12 teams with the edition of four – preferably East Coast – Australian franchises or clubs, but that option is dependent on the health of Australian rugby in the post-Covid environment.
As one source said, it is not New Zealand Rugby’s mandate to prop up Australia, so the transtasman neighbours must bring broadcast and commercial dollars to the party.
While these are fascinating scenarios for the middle to long term, rugby’s resumption remains front of most fans’ minds.
This remains a fluid prospect due to the ever-evolving Covid-19 pandemic, but as the situation here rapidly improves, hope springs eternal that the proposed Super Rugby derby competition can start, possibly by mid-June, and be followed by an immediate All Blacks trial.
The mid-June resumption is considered a best case scenario, and would require the continued progression from alert level 3 to 2 on May 12.
New Zealand teams would then need at least three weeks of contact conditioning training before launching into the 10-week derbies which will pit each side against their four local opponents on a home and away basis, with a first-past-the-post winner crowned.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 30, 2020
Plans are in place, however, to first stage a one-off All Blacks trial before the provincial season kicks off.
This window for an All Blacks trial would reward performances during the Super derby competition.
Staging an All Blacks trial would allow Ian Foster’s new All Blacks coaching team the chance to interact with players and put plans in place for a potentially rapid return for a Bledisloe Cup series, as border restrictions with Australia are expected to ease before any others.
A trial would also give NZ Rugby’s commercial partners, who don’t have certainty about how this season will play out, a much-needed chance for exposure.
The Mitre 10 provincial campaign is then scheduled to follow in its existing two-tiered format. All parties have agreed this competition could run as late as December.
The longer level 3 carries on, however, the more these plans will get squeezed – it is worth noting there has been doubt expressed within the rugby community as to how equipped many provincial unions are to ensure a safe reintroduction of rugby.
While there is much uncertainty around rugby’s resumption and the longer term plans, including the future of Sanzaar, there is a certainty: the shape of the season will look a lot different in 2021 than it did in 2019.
A potential four-week finals format that would involve teams qualifying from their respective domestic competitions for a European Heineken Cup style league is another touted concept.
NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said yesterday: “Everything is on the table but it is too early to commit to anything absolutely,” Robinson said. “We’ll need to work through this quickly because we know the horizon of next year is fast approaching.
“We’re in close dialogue with South Africa, Argentina and Australia on this. There’s nothing predetermined at the moment.”
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