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Europe beckons for SA teams after New Zealand Super Rugby snub

Picture: BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – New Zealand Rugby’s announcement earlier today that their Super Rugby future lay within the Australasia-Pacific region is the first concrete indication that South Africa’s big rugby franchises will, possibly from next year, play in Europe, in PRO rugby.

Rumours have been doing the rounds for a while that Super Rugby – as we know it, and how it has involved, mainly, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa over the last 25 years – is dead.

Following an extensive review process undertaken by New Zealand rugby authorities, and announced to the world today, it seems New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams will align with their Australian counterparts, and include a team (or teams) from the Pacific islands to form a new inter-provincial competition from as early as 2021.

“Coming on the back of Covid-19 and its impact on future competitons, the NZR Board has committed to establishing a new professional team competition in 2021.  We have also been heartened by the success of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa (in the recent weeks),” said NZR CEO Mark Robinson.

“The focus is now on confirming the licenses for New Zealand’s five current Super Rugby franchises and that work is now underway.  We have highly valued the partnership with these five teams over the last 25 years of the competition and want that to continue,” he said.

Robinson added a breakaway from the current Super Rugby model would allow a team from either Tonga, Samoa or Fiji to enter the market.

“There is a huge desire to have a Pasifika team involved which we think will be massive for the competition, popular with fans and is a priority for us,” said Robinson. “As we know, our Pacific nations and Pasifika players in New Zealand have added so much to the rich history of rugby in Oceania and our game here in New Zealand. To have a team that would provide an additional pathway for Pasifika players to perform on the world stage would be hugely exciting.”

Robinson added NZR would talk to Rugby Australia to find out about their franchise’s needs and wants going forward. “We are excited and interested to see what our Australian neighbours will bring to this competition.” 

While nothing had been decided on the number of teams to play in a new-look Super Rugby competition Down Under, Robinson said he hoped to stage something with eight to 10 teams. “We want teams that are competitive and that fans will want to watch go head to head, week in, week out.”

South Africa’s future then almost is guaranteed to be in Europe. Indications have been strong for a while that, for financial reasons and the better travel requirements and time zones, the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions could join Pro rugby. If they do, the competition could expand from its current 14 teams to 20, or it could be an 18-team competition, were the Cheetahs and Kings to fall out, as has been suggested in some quarters.

Just two weeks ago, Cheetahs MD Harold Verster, wasn’t able to give any assurances that his team would be guaranteed a place in PRO rugby beyond 2022.

Discussions between South African rugby bosses and PRO rugby about six local franchises playing in Europe from next year are believed to be at an advanced stage.

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