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Super Rugby set to lose SA intensity

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South Africa, which formed Super Rugby 25 years ago with Australia and New Zealand, voted this week to pull its four major franchises out of the competition and explore expanding their presence in the European PRO14.

Picture: Phando Jikelo, African News Agency (ANA)

South Africa’s withdrawal from Super Rugby could ultimately bring Australia and New Zealand closer despite recent friction between the trans-Tasman nations, Wallabies attack coach Scott Wisemantel said on Thursday.

South Africa, which formed Super Rugby 25 years ago with Australia and New Zealand, voted this week to pull its four major franchises out of the competition and explore expanding their presence in the European PRO14.

“The loss is that you end up with a different style of rugby. They’re traditionally a power game,” Wisemantel told reporters on a video call.

“What do we gain? I think we gain stronger ties. Within the Australian competition there are very varied styles and I think within New Zealand you will start to see that.”

Australia and New Zealand held domestic competitions in lieu of Super Rugby after it was abandoned due to the pandemic. The arrangement appears set to continue in 2021.

The rugby rivals have fallen out in recent months over planning for the game as financial pressures brought by Covid-19 bite.

New Zealand will reprise the domestic Super Rugby Aotearoa competition in 2021, with no Australian or Pacific islands teams involved, but there is the possibility of expansion in 2022, the chairman of the national governing body said on Thursday.

New Zealand set up Super Rugby Aotearoa in 2020 for its five professional franchises after the broader Super Rugby championship was abandoned due to Covid-19.

New Zealand Rugby had hoped to include a team from the Pacific islands for next year’s tournament and invited expressions of interest from Australia.

However, its chairman Brett Impey said the pandemic had shelved those plans, with financial concerns also a factor as they faced multimillion-dollar reductions in revenue for the next two years.

“Covid has forced us to think domestically for next year,” Impey told reporters on a video call. “Given the success of Super Rugby Aotearoa, it became a no-brainer that we do something similar in 2021.

“There has been a lot of speculation around our keenness to involve a Pasifika team in Super Rugby, and we are still committed to getting that across the line. But the board believe that we must get this right.”

NZR’s decision means Australia will also be expected to repeat its domestic Super Rugby AU competition in 2021.

Impey said they were in discussion with Rugby Australia about cross-border matches at the conclusion of both domestic competitions.

He added the board had approved expansion of Super Rugby Aotearoa by up to three teams in 2022 and shortlisted four expressions of interest from New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region.

A decision on the outcome would be made on November 30.

“There is still some work to be done (because) the last thing we wanted was for a team to come in and get smashed,” he said.

“And off the field they have to be self-sustaining (because) we are heading towards multimillion-dollar losses. We cannot afford to be subsidising any new team coming in.”

Meanwhile, New Zealand Rugby, though, has lashed out at Australia and governing body Sanzaar over the scheduling of the four-nation Rugby Championship, which could see the All Blacks having to spend Christmas in quarantine after the last match on December 12.

Wisemantel said he sympathised with the All Blacks, but was focused on preparing the Wallabies for their first Test of the season against the All Blacks on October 11.

“Let the administrators have their little tiff … and we’ll coach footy,” he said. “For the Kiwis, I do hope that they get home and can spend Christmas with their families, but that’s another one for the administrators to sort out.”

Reuters