New Zealand Rugby is coming under increasing fire from its Sanzaar partners over the unilateral move to set up a new franchise competition, with legal action even being mooted by South Africa.
The Kiwis sent tremors through southern hemisphere rugby last week when announcing plans for an 8-10 team competition based around a core of the five NZ Super Rugby franchises, effectively dismantling the 25-year Sanzaar model.
It sought expressions of interest from Australia to enter up to four teams while provision has also been made for a Pasifika team.
Australian media reports suggest early trans-Tasman talks had fallen flat, heightening the possibility of Rugby Australia establishing its own competition from 2021.
RA chairman Hamish McLennan said his chief executive Rob Clarke had described negotiations with NZR as “expressions of insolence” and told The Australian the Kiwis had tried to dictate terms.
McLennan said NZR boss Mark Robinson had made it clear he doesn’t want all five Super Rugby AU teams in the competition – something the Australians say is imperative.
Waratahs chairman Roger Davis followed up with a lashing of NZR for what he described as “appalling” behaviour in sounding out Super Rugby teams directly for their interest, circumventing RA officials.
“We’re not going to split or destroy the code by dumping two or three sides. It would do irreparable damage to the game here,” Davis told the Sydney Morning Herald.
NZR took another blow from SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux, who said binding Sanzaar agreements had been shunned.
“If anybody kicked anyone out of Super Rugby, it was New Zealand kicking themselves out,” Roux told a media conference.
“New Zealand has every right to determine their future but in terms of Sanzaar and the joint venture agreement, there is a very legal agreement in place and you’ve got to act within that legal agreement.
“The unbundling of Super Rugby can only be a Sanzaar executive decision. Somebody else might make a unilateral decision that forces (a split) but they put themselves at risk of a legal liability by the people who are still part of the joint venture.”
COVID-19’s devastating impact on South Africa meant no rugby had been possible there since March.
SA Rugby is considering an August launch of a domestic competition – similar to the Super Rugby leagues under way in Australia and New Zealand – and Roux remains hopeful the world champion Springboks can play in a Kiwi-hosted Rugby Championship starting in November.
RA is also hopeful of getting New Zealand to agree to two Wallabies-hosted Bledisloe Cup Tests in October before both teams cross the ditch to isolate and then contest the Rugby Championship.