Southern hemisphere governing body SANZAAR announced plans Thursday to hold this year’s Rugby Championship in New Zealand, as the game’s Kiwi powerbrokers gathered to discuss a radical revamp of Super Rugby.
SANZAAR said it wanted to play the Rugby Championship in one location because of the COVID-19 pandemic and New Zealand was the preferred option because of its success in containing the virus.
“SANZAAR is well advanced in option planning with New Zealand Rugby, which in turn, is now seeking New Zealand government approval,” it said in a statement.
The four-way international tournament involves South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina and is administered by SANZAAR.
It was originally scheduled to begin on August 8 with a clash between the Wallabies and All Blacks in Melbourne, but the fixture has little chance of proceeding as the city battles a resurgence of coronavirus infections.
While SANZAAR hopes to rescue its international schedule by staging the Championship in New Zealand, the future of its Super Rugby club competition remains uncertain.
The tournament was suspended in March as virus-related border restrictions halted travel for its 15 teams, which are located in five countries straddling 16 time zones.
New Zealand and Australia have set up domestic competitions but South African clubs and Argentina’s Jaguares remain sidelined.
Japan’s Sunwolves, who were set to be axed at the end of the season even before the pandemic, have been disbanded.
The New Zealand Rugby board on Thursday met to discuss a review of Super Rugby, which has long been criticised as unwieldy, expensive to run, exhausting for elite players and difficult for fans to follow.
The review, called Aratipu, the indigenous Maori word for “growth”, has not been released but reportedly focuses on a trans-Tasman competition without South African clubs and the Jaguares.
New Zealand media say the review proposes an eight-team competition, comprising five Kiwi Super Rugby clubs and two or three from Australia, depending on whether a Pacific islands team is included.
The prospect has caused consternation in Australia, which would like to see five teams participate, including the Perth-based Western Force, who were cut from Super Rugby in 2017.
Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan last week said the relationship between the two unions was “a bit master-servant”, with New Zealand holding the whip hand.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster countered by questioning the depth of Australian rugby, saying weak teams would detract from the quality of a revamped competition.
“This is not a charity,” he told newshub.co.nz.
“We’ve got to actually make sure they’re feasible, they’re financially viable and the public are going to really get in behind them.”
New Zealand Rugby said it was unsure when the results of the Aratipu review would be made public.