Rugby Australia CEO Rob Clarke (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
- Australian rugby officials have proposed a ‘Super 8’ product as an alternative to keep the current Super Rugby sides playing against each other.
- The series would be played following the completion of domestic competition or the proposed trans-Tasman tournament.
- The future of Super Rugby in its current format remains in serious doubt.
Rugby Australia Monday proposed a Super 8 series with teams from New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and Argentina to be played at the conclusion of either a domestic or trans-Tasman tournament.
The plan was unveiled as part of its drive to secure a lucrative new broadcast deal, with the current one running out at the end of the year.
Its vision includes options for either a domestic Super Rugby competition, as is being played currently due to the coronavirus pandemic, or a trans-Tasman one from 2021.
New Zealand last month suggested a new event with its five existing teams, two to four from Australia and one from the Pacific in a shake-up of the struggling flagship southern hemisphere Super Rugby tournament.
But there was little consultation and the plan angered its Sanzaar partners, with Australia insisting all of its teams – Brumbies, Reds, Waratahs, Rebels and Western Force – must play.
Rugby Australia’s pitch includes a four-week Super 8 tournament featuring the top two teams from Australian, New Zealand and South African Super Rugby, and the leading one from Japan’s Top League and South America’s domestic tournament.
“We will do whatever is in the best interests of Australian rugby and we’ve been working hard on a variety of competition models, not just for Super Rugby but for every level of the game,” said interim Rugby Australia chief Rob Clarke.
He added that discussions had taken place with the other countries, but gave no indication about how the plan was received.
“We’re in no means cutting off our Sanzaar partners and we’ll be looking to do things jointly with them beyond the Rugby Championship wherever possible,” he said.
“That said, we do need to have a competition that has integrity to it and has an ability to grow our game here in Australia and grow our fan base and some of the options we’re looking at we believe will do just that.”
Super Rugby was launched in 1996, emerging from the amateur South Pacific Championship as a 10-team professional competition featuring clubs from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Its 25th anniversary season this year has not been one to celebrate, as the Covid-19 pandemic not only halted cross-border competition but brutally exposed its flawed format.
With 15 teams in five countries straddling 16 time zones, it has long been criticised as unwieldy, expensive to run, exhausting for elite players and difficult for fans to follow.
Part of the Australian broadcast package also included an annual ‘State of Union’ clash between New South Wales and Queensland, similar to rugby league’s State of Origin.