While it’s perhaps fair to say that the Super Rugby model has been in due of a rejig for a number of years now, the global pandemic has forced the hands of the various stakeholders to consider a significant change-up in 2021.
This year, New Zealand and Australia are operating two completely separate competitions, Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby AU, which will include no international interaction.
Meanwhile, there’s little clarity at present what’s on the cards for South Africa and Argentina this year.
Looking ahead to 2021, there’s a very real chance that those nations still won’t be able to engage in regular international travel – but the possibility exists of New Zealand and Australia teaming up to create some form of trans-Tasman competition.
While fans around the world have enjoyed the spectacle of Super Rugby Aotearoa this year, New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey has suggested that the current model is infeasible for the future.
“Certainly the way it’s been embraced has been terrific,” Impey told Stuff.
“The derbies are always the ones that have attracted the best crowds and the best television, everything.
“The challenge is that it’s pretty hard to run a sustainable competition with five teams.
A small dose of high-quality football works wonders – which is the situation that New Zealand has currently found itself in – but if the same five teams play one another week after week, year after year, then the product will become stale over time. Imepy has instead suggested that any future competitions – that aren’t forced by external events – must have some variety in order to keep fans interested.
“It worked perfectly this year but going longer-term, it’s not really a sustainable model,” Impey said.
“We’ve got an open mind, but we’ve got to remember what our fans want and also make sure it’s viable.”
The two easiest solutions for 2021 (and possibly beyond) would be to include Australian teams and create a trans-Tasman competition or to simply expand Super Rugby Aotearoa and introduce more New Zealand teams.
While the former option might not produce the level of rugby, the latter comes with other pitfalls.
“One of the issues you get into if you just extend out New Zealand teams is the question of high performance,” said Impey.
“We’ve been able to use the current five to field a pretty decent All Black team over the years with very few hiccups.
“The risk you are running if you go down that line is the watering down of high performance.”
Rugby Australia, who are in dire financial straits, will be desperate to come to an arrangement for NZR for the future. While Australian fans may enjoy watching their local talent go toe-to-toe, the quality of competition would see a marked increase with New Zealand sides involved.
New RA chairman Hamish McLennan has suggested that a trans-Tasman competition is the future and Impey certainly hasn’t ruled that out.
“We’re open to working with Rugby Australia. We’re open to it all. We’ve got a completely open mind as we plan through.”
The wider public would almost certainly like to see involvement from the likes of Japan and the Pacific Islands while a future involving South Africa and Argentina is looking less and less likely.
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