NSW Waratahs coach Rob Penney has fired a warning shot at New Zealand Rugby (NZR) to weigh the importance of trans-Tasman relations when considering a new competition to replace Super Rugby. Penney said New Zealand rugby bosses would pay a hefty price if they tried to play hardball over the number of Australian teams in whatever format the competition took from 2021 onwards.

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NZR chief executive Mark Robinson hit out at Australian media reports that his board was split over two possible preferred models – an open-border split of five NZ and five Australian franchises; or an eight-team competition featuring five from NZ, just two from Australia and one from the Pacific.

A Sydney Morning Herald report said Rugby Australia (RA) was poised to reject any proposal featuring three or less Australian teams and would set about creating its own competition, potentially inviting offshore players. Robinson responded that he hadn’t received any steer on RA’s preference from counterpart Rob Clarke on Thursday in a meeting.

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Penney, the fomer New Zealand U20s and Canterbury coach, said it was obvious neither country would benefit long term from continuing with the internal Super Rugby competitions which had been launched this year in response to Covid-19. “Isolation is probably not the ideal scenario for anyone but, if New Zealand want to do that – at their own peril,” said Penney.

“If New Zealand don’t get positive around the relationship they have with Australia, that is their loss. They probably see themselves in a powerful bubble, which they have done for a number of years – so be it. We’ll create one (competition) here and then they’ll come knocking, I’m sure.”

Robinson said the board had yet to even see a copy of the independent Kiwi-driven ‘Aratipu Report’ recommendations which would be made public next week. “There’s nothing we’re hearing about what they (Australia) would and wouldn’t be open to at this stage,” he said. “I’m not aware of what Australia are particularly focused on in that area.”

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Robinson said suggestion his board was split was “absolute nonsense” and played down growing noise that the SANZAAR joint venture was on the verge of being dismantled. He indicated SANZAAR might not be the governing entity of the Super Rugby replacement, depending on what format it took, but it would continue to oversee the running of a Test tournament.

Robinson confirmed SANZAAR was investigating staging this year’s Rugby Championship in Australia and/or New Zealand and NZR had pitched to be the sole host of the tournament. Talks remained “dynamic” on staging a Bledisloe Cup series, he said.

However, the touted prospect of an All Blacks-Kangaroos hybrid match in December was fading as a prospect, primarily because NZR had received no recent updates from the NRL. “They might have got cold feet – we’re not sure,” Robinson said. “It’s quiet at present and that’s OK with us. We’ve got lots of things to work on.”

Penney, meanwhile, has labelled Saturday’s Super Rugby AU clash with a fired-up Western Force as a potential massive banana skin for his side. It’s likely to be an emotion-fuelled performance by the Force, who will debut in the revamped domestic competition and play their first Super match of any type since being cut from the full tournament after the 2017 season.

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Australian cricket coach, batting great and proud West Australian Justin Langer addressed the Force in the lead-up to Saturday night’s SCG encounter. “He’s a good man, Rugby Australia got him on one of the Zoom conferences during the Covid off-season – he was really good,” Penney said.

“I understand that he’s probably telling the Western Force the vagaries of living on the east coast of Australia and all the things that the western province doesn’t like about the eastern side and firing them up. We counter that with our own motivations and our own inspirations.”

Penney is wary of a Force side he knows little about but he won’t be underestimating them, especially with his side needing a win after a first-round loss to Queensland. “We are going to have to be very careful,” Penney said. “It’s these sort of fixtures where one team gets an emotional boost. Another team, for one reason or another, might be a bit low and it turns into a massive banana skin.

“For us to be able to challenge the Force, we need to be preparing well and making sure we’re not getting a bit lazy in terms of that mental prep and game prep that individual has to go through.”

Penney has named an unchanged starting side, opting to bring Karmichael Hunt back off the bench, with the Wallabies’ veteran recovering from a hamstring injury. Rookie inside centre Joey Walton, after debuting last week, retains the run-on spot. “Joey had a really solid performance last week and I guess it’s furthering his development and we can unleash Karmichael a bit later,” Penney said.

WARATAHS (v Force): J Maddocks; J Ramm, A Newsome, J Walton, M Nawaqanitawase; W Harrison, M Short; W Harris, M Hooper, L Swinton, R Simmons (capt), N Hanigan, H Johnson-Holmes, R Abel, A Bell. Reps: T Horton, T Faulkner, T Tauakipulu, J Dempsey, M McDonald, B Donaldson/T Moeroa, K Hunt.

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