Like gold being refined and purified by fire, Super Rugby Aotearoa has refined the New Zealand players and balanced the New Zealand teams to be better than ever. It would be a mistake to get rid of it.
However, if the main concern with Super Rugby Aotearoa is increased injuries due to its intensity, or feeling like it’s a bit stale, then simply follow the European model and play Super Rugby Trans-Tasman throughout Super Rugby Aotearoa on designated weekends.
This would give the New Zealand teams plenty of breaks from playing each other. It would also allow Australia to keep Super Rugby AU while getting continual exposure to the New Zealand teams throughout. See below for what the Super Rugby season would look like.
There are only 18 weeks or so in which to fit any Super Rugby model between the end of February and the July Tests.
Now if Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa both follow a home-and-away format with six teams each, including finals, you would need 12 weeks.
This would leave only five weeks for Super Rugby Trans-Tasman plus a week off to give players sufficient rest.
Therefore, divide Super Rugby Trans-Tasman into three divisions: Cup, Shield and Plate (for want of better names).
While divisions in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman are necessary in order to fit within the available window, they also match the top New Zealand teams with the top Australian teams, and the bottom Australian teams with the bottom New Zealand teams for that season. This is important to keep all games competitive and with fewer blowout scores (hopefully!).
So in the Cup division, you would have the top two teams from Super Rugby Aotearoa and the top two from Super Rugby AU. In the Shield division you would have the next two best teams from each (third and fourth), and in the Plate division you would have teams placed fifth and sixth from each.
Within each division, you would play everyone not from your own domestic Super Rugby competition twice, home and away, for four games plus a final for five weeks total. And you end up with a Cup, Shield and Plate winner.
The rankings for Super Rugby Trans-Tasman would be based on the previous year’s Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa. If a team wants to move up into a higher division of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, they need to embrace the challenge and improve their position in their respective domestic Super Rugby competition.
But don’t worry, the season is only short and the rankings within Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa are likely to change from year to year. Teams will move up and down divisions in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman pretty regularly.
The Super Rugby season would look as follows:
Week 1: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 2: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 3: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 4: Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Round 1
Week 5: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 6: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 7: Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Round 2
Week 8: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 9: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa (week off for all Test players in camp)
Week 10: Anzac Day Bledisloe Cup (week off for all non-Test players)
Week 11: Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Round 3
Week 12: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 13: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 14: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa
Week 15: Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Round 4
Week 16: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa (semi-final)
Week 17: Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa (final)
Week 18: Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final for Cup, Shield, Plate
Every team would get a minimum seven home games and seven away games each season.
You’ll notice that this structure also allows for a single Bledisloe Cup game to be played on the Anzac Day weekend.
It’s not a perfect model, but perhaps the best model overall for both New Zealand and Australia.