A trans-Tasman competition could soon be the norm for Australia and New Zealand. Picture: AAP/Darren England
A trans-Tasman competition could soon be the norm for Australia and New Zealand. Picture: AAP/Darren England

Trans-Tasman comp set to erase Super Rugby forever

New Zealand is becoming resigned to the fact that Super Rugby in its existing form is dead and that next year's competition, based on a trans-Tasman series of some description, could become the permanent norm, Rugby Australia chairman Paul McLean believes.

McLean spoke to his New Zealand Rugby counterpart Brent Impey on the weekend and in between discussions about the World Rugby elections - both Australia and NZ, as SANZAAR members, are supporting Argentinian Gus Pichot, who looks increasingly likely to unseat sitting chairman Bill Beaumont of England - talk turned to how Super Rugby or its replacement might shape up next season and beyond.

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Super Rugby may be no more. Picture: AAP/Lukas Coch
Super Rugby may be no more. Picture: AAP/Lukas Coch

"I can't see and they can't see South Africa and Argentina being involved anywhere in the short term along the way," McLean told The Australian.

But what might start out as a short-term solution could become an entrenched feature of southern hemisphere rugby if, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes increasingly difficult and expensive to include South Africa or Argentina.

New Zealand's bond with South Africa, which goes back 99 years at Test level, has been nearly unbreakable but, as in everything else, the coronavirus is forcing new ways of thinking.

"I think they know that the competition next year may be the competition they sell to their broadcasters (long-term)," McLean said. "Everyone is in the same boat and their broadcasters are under the same pressure as ours, I suspect - like everyone around the world."

No dates were set for a resumption of Super Rugby but New Zealand and Australia have been holding talks about each country starting up its own domestic competition initially and then, if border restrictions are relaxed, marrying up the two national series at some later stage of the season.

Scott Johnson, Rugby Australia's director of rugby, said on Sunday that rugby would not be pushing any societal norms in seeking a date for the resumption of games, but he was hoping for a one-month runway to allow footballers to get fully into the swing of training before matches were played. All indications are that the target dates set by the Queensland Rugby Union for a June 1 resumption of training ahead of a July 1 clearance to play would be adopted nationally.

There still is some hope, Johnson said, that the two-Test series against Ireland, which was to have been played in July, might still be staged this year, although it could be pushed back, possibly as late as December.

"There are that many plans," Johnson explained. "The longer the clock goes, one or two options drop off the table. There is genuine talk of a global season for the very first time and we may get to align the (southern and northern hemisphere) calendars. So this opportunity might be a really good thing."

McLean, meanwhile, indicated he would spend what time he has left as RA chairman pushing for a restructure of Australian rugby's governance structure, possibly aiming at a rugby equivalent of the AFL Commission.

"So I think what we would do - and this is just me talking - we would certainly have a look at what's happening in the NRL and the AFL in their governance structure, but the overlying difference is that rugby has an international dimension," McLean said. "But that's fine. All things are on the table and if we're to make some changes, some meaningful changes, then now is the time."


Australia’s Director of Rugby Scott Johnson. Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty
Australia’s Director of Rugby Scott Johnson. Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty


McLean is hoping to use fellow director Brett Godfrey's expertise to enlighten the board on the workings of the AFL Commission.

"Godfrey worked for the Tasmanian government on getting a Tasmanian team into the AFL, so he has good knowledge of that," he said.

He is uncertain whether a Rugby Australia Commission would replace the existing RA board or whether the two bodies would operate in unison, but clearly he believes there should be the member unions represented on it, along with the Rugby Union Players Association.

His idealised version does not sound markedly different to the Australian Rugby Review Board proposal put forward by the 10 dissident Wallabies captains, although McLean believes that it shouldn't just be the captains who figure on such a body. "I think the Classic Wallabies should be the entity at the table," he said. "They embrace all Wallabies."

He said other stakeholders and sponsors should also have a say.

RA will formally sever ties with former CEO Raelene Castle this week, paying out what her contract says she is entitled to. Whether that also includes the $114,000 bonus the board decided she had earned has yet to be discussed.

As for whether any senior RA executives could be told to pack their bags, McLean, who expects to continue the role of executive chairman for a couple of weeks, said he had "no view" on that.

Originally published as Trans-Tasman comp set to erase Super Rugby forever