New Zealand Rugby is confident it will get buy-in from Australia to join its new-look franchise competition in 2021 but says it will be highly selective over which teams will be invited to take part.
Trans-Tasman negotiations next week will determine whether Rugby Australia enters expressions of interest for its teams to join the competition or breaks ties and forms its own model.
An RA statement on Friday revealed few clues to its stance in response to the NZR announcement of an eight-to-10-team competition to replace Super Rugby.
A three-month NZR review concluded the five existing Kiwi franchises should form the core and be joined by one professional entity from the Pacific Islands.
That leaves room for two to four Australian teams and removes the involvement of franchises from South Africa, Argentina and Japan.
Negotiations are under way with potential Pacific candidates but talks with Australia will not begin until next week.
NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said the bar will be set high for teams interested in joining what he believes will be the strongest professional league in the world.
“We’re very conscious of any teams coming into the competition, that they are highly competitive, they are financially viable and that they bring value that can attract fans and retain interest in the competition,” he said.
RA chairman Hamish McLennan has previously expressed a desire for all five Super Rugby AU teams to be involved in any trans-Tasman venture.
McLennan recently described his organisation’s relationship with NZ as “master-servant” in nature and has threatened to set up an Australian-run competition if terms cannot be reached.
An RA statement on Friday gave no indication whether it favoured New Zealand’s model, saying only that it intended to “work constructively” in talks over coming weeks.
“Rugby Australia will also continue its discussions with stakeholders in Australia and is in constant consultation with our valued SANZAAR joint venture partners.”
The statement said RA recognised the need to consider alternative models to Super Rugby given the global disruption caused by COVID-19 and would consider what worked best for Australian rugby interests.
Robinson has not directly addressed what problems would be caused if there was no Australian involvement in NZR’s proposed setup.
“We’ll work through that more as we go,” he said. “Certainly there’s aspects of Super Rugby Aotearoa (that) have shown that it’s a particularly popular domestic league.
“Conversations with Australia have been constructive and positive and we think they’ll engage in a positive way.”
Robinson stressed that the suggested model is for 2021 only and that there remains a possibility of including more Australian teams in future.
He said ideally the season would finish with cross-border games against the leading teams from other club and franchise competitions around the globe.
NZR is still to determine the ownership model of its proposed venture and offshore investment is being considered.