The Australian Rugby Union (ARU), on Tuesday, admitted that they had put forward a proposal to their counterparts in New Zealand to form a new version of Super Rugby which excluded SA, which was in turn rejected by the New Zealand union, in favour of maintaining ties with SA.
In Australia, statistics for matches which involve SA have shown that crowds are down, while television matches from SA have had lower audiences, mainly due to the time difference.
Rob Nichol, head of the New Zealand Players’ Association, came out strongly in favour of maintaining a healthy relationship with SA Rugby, both in terms of provincial/franchise and international competition.
He said that Super Rugby gave excellent experience to young NZ players who had aspirations of representing the All Blacks. Apart from financial benefit, the historical link between the two traditional rivals was important to preserve and continue, he said.
He added: “The players enjoy the challenge of having to go to Africa and perform and that’s been historically the case since Super Rugby started.
“In addition, while our international players and All Blacks in particular have to do a lot of travel, and towards the end of the year that becomes quite a challenge… a vast majority of our players really look forward to getting on the road with their team.
“That combined with the history of our relationship with South Africa… means we’re very keen to keep playing against South Africa.”
The new model of Super Rugby, as confirmed by SANZAAR (SA, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby) on Sunday, contains 15 teams in three conferences. This promises to be more player- and fan-friendly, with a greater emphasis on the the stronger teams in the competition rising to the top, to earn a place in the playoffs.
The three conference winners will qualify for a home quarter-final, with the next five places awarded according to position on the log.
Nichol said: “It’s not perfect but it’s a competition format that I believe will see the best eight teams in the finals.
“They may not be in the order they should be because each conference winner is going to get a home quarter-final as of right.. but it certainly presents a better balance than what we have at the moment with the 18-team competition.
“In terms of strength I think there’s a lot of work to be done around the Japanese team (Sunwolves), given the amount of travel they do and the player base they’re selecting from, so I think Sanzaar has to put a massive amount of effort in there.
“In respect to Argentina (Jaguares), they came into this competition promising that they would do a number of things and they’ve delivered – they have contracted their players back from Europe, they are fielding a very competitive team, and they are getting better over time, so a big tick for Argentina and their involvement.”