When Super 12 was launched in 1996, the 12 initial spots for teams were handed out based on merit. SANZAAR, the governing body, has since made the mistake of trying to use the competition to grow rugby outside those 12 geographic regions, which has probably been the major factor in Super Rugby’s downfall.

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New Zealand Rugby (NZR) have now revealed what they see as the future of rugby in NZ – a trans-Tasman competition that includes the five Kiwi teams and a smattering of sides from Australia and possibly the Pacific Islands.

The revelation that NZR may believe as few as two Australian sides belong in the new competition would have come as a major gut punch to administrators on the other side of the Tasman Sea.

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Ross Karl is joined by Bryn Hall and Brad Weber in this installment of our weekly show discussing all things New Zealand rugby.

The two neighbouring countries have been bedfellows for a long time now, with Rugby Australia (RA) even indicating they’d be willing to hand some co-hosting responsibilities over to NZ if they’re able to secure the 2027 World Cup.

Purely on merit, however, there’s little argument for why Australia deserve for than two or three teams in a new competition. The Australian conference has been the weakest in Super Rugby for some time. The Brumbies are the only side that’s really shown any backbone in recent years and, even if you hark back to the wonder years when Reds and Waratahs secured Super Rugby titles, their success was always at the expense of other teams.

In 2011, the Reds topped the overall ladder while the Western Force, Brumbies and Rebels held three of the bottom four spots. In 2014, when the Waratahs won their maiden title, the Rebels and Reds respectively occupied last and third-from-last on the table.

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Understandably, RA would ideally want all five of their current teams – the Reds, Waratahs, Brumbies, Rebels and Force – to be included in any trans-Tasman competition, in order to ‘grow the game’ across Australia. Premier competitions aren’t supposed to encourage growth by creating long-term pathways for local players, however, they’re supposed to encourage growth by promoting a brilliantly marketable product.

Creating pathways for players should rest on the union’s shoulders. New Zealand has the Mitre 10 Cup. Australia has the National Rugby Championship – but even that’s not really built for long-term success.

If the Force were to be welcomed back into the fold, for example, that would create an end-goal for young rugby players in Western Australia – but there needs to be shorter-term goals too. WA currently have just one team in the NRC, so how will the Force expect to compete with NZ’s franchises unless they start taking players from other regions across Australia?

A tournament comprised of New Zealand’s five sides plus the three original Australian teams – the Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies – would create a highly competitive, highly marketable competition.

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If Australia commits to introducing an extra NRC team in WA and Victoria then the situation can be reassessed after two or three years – but that would be dependant on the Australian sides actually remaining competitive in the trans-Tasman competition.

Young athletes in Australia won’t be drawn to rugby just because a team that represents their region is getting regularly thrashed by NZ sides. They’ll be drawn to rugby because the nation is succeeding as a whole – and a massive factor in that success will be the country’s domestic competition.

Japan would also be a worthy candidate for teaming up with New Zealand and Australia, but their international club should be considered the tier above their current domestic competition and have the pick of the bunch of players already playing in the Top League. If the Sunwolves had always had access to whatever Japanese players they’d wanted, they would have attracted considerably less negative press.

It beggars belief that Australia, a country with rich roots in rugby and two World Cup titles under their belt, has a worse domestic competition than Japan.

The fact that RA sees Super Rugby as a way to grow the grassroots of the game in Australia shows how backwards their thinking is right now.

Whatever competition New Zealand spearheads needs to be highly competitive – the best club rugby product in the Southern Hemisphere, at the very least. That won’t be achieved through opening the doors to every team that wants to have a run – there have to be strict requirements not just if expansion is to ever take place, but for the teams that want to take part in the inaugural season of the competition.

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