Super Rugby as fans know it is almost certainly over, after the South African Rugby Union (SARU) voted at a special general meeting to send their top four franchise sides to Europe’s Pro Rugby instead of the southern hemisphere competition.
Two South African teams, the Cheetahs and Kings, currently ply their trade in Pro14, which is also made up of teams from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy. However, if negotiations between the European competition and SARU are successful, the duo will be replaced by the four current Super Rugby sides – the Bulls, Lions, Stormers and Sharks – and the competition will morph into the Pro16.
While SANZAAR nations had committed to a 14-team Super Rugby competition until 2025, with New Zealand and Australia both shifting towards either local or a trans-Tasman competition, SARU CEO Jurie Roux said his organisation now had little choice but to pursue a future for their four main franchises in Europe.
A SARU media release read as follows:
“The meeting and options had been presented as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the unilateral decision by the New Zealand Rugby Union to proceed with a domestic or trans-Tasman competition.
“Roux said New Zealand’s decision made it impossible to deliver the 14-team Super Rugby competition that had been agreed by the partners and for which five-year broadcasting agreements had been signed.
‘Our members are excited about the prospect of closer alignment with Pro Rugby Championship and seeking a northern hemisphere future, but we would not have been taking this decision but for actions elsewhere,’ said Roux.”
While earlier reports ahead of the general meeting suggested that, if such a vote eventuated, it would only be for the 2021 season, there is no indication the move is anything but a permanent one, meaning Super Rugby, which has featured teams from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia since its inception in 1996, is over.
For their part, New Zealand Rugby took the news with little surprise.
“SARU has signalled for some time now they were looking at aligning with the Northern Hemisphere season,” CEO Mark Robinson said.
“All of the SANZAAR partners had agreed to look at more domestically related competitions in 2020 and 2021. During times like these change is inevitable and we need to be willing to adapt quickly.”
As SARU president Mark Alexander saying South Africa still remained committed to the SANZAAR partnership, Roux acknowledged they will remain in discussions about a modified, condensed club competition involving the four nations.
“We will advise our SANZAAR partners of the General Meeting’s decision,” Roux said.
“We remain part of the joint venture and will pursue the ‘Super Series’ discussions in good faith.”
The Cheetahs were selected at the general meeting as South Africa’s entrant to any such competition. However South Africa will only participate if “a commercial model was developed to make their entry cost neutral at least, once agreement had been reached with SANZAAR”.