The future of the SANZAAR alliance has been cast into further doubt after a leaked report suggested New Zealand’s Aratipu review will recommend the country pursues a trans-Tasman provincial competition from 2021.
A Newshub report on Tuesday suggested the alliance could be broken up once and for all, leaving the national unions “to go it alone” in one of a handful of key recommendations set to handed down from the Aratipu review.
New Zealand Rugby commissioned the Aratipu review earlier this year as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold, chief executive Mark Robinson last week that the draft report had been tabled.
“We have been heartened by the fantastic collaboration we have had with our wider rugby family to date on Aratipu, including our Super Rugby clubs, Provincial Unions, investors, SKY and the NZRPA, and we look forward to their continued input as we develop final options.
“A draft Aratipu report is now with the Decision Executive and, while no final decisions have been made, the draft report provides a whole range of options across many areas, including how we keep our fans excited and involved in Super Rugby, possible competition structures and how Super Rugby is run.
“We are going through further consultation across rugby before a final report and recommendations are presented to the NZR Board later this month and then announced publicly.”
Super Rugby has suffered a steep decline from its halcyon days of the early 2000s, the competition’s failed expansion of 2016 hurting the competition dearly while the growth of the global player market has also affected the tournament’s quality.
According to Newshub, the draft Aratipu recommends “major changes from 2021 – namely a trans-Tasman competition with the addition of a team from the Pacific,” creating a scenario where “without teams from South Africa and Argentina, SANZAAR’s governance of the competition would inevitably cease.”
The draft Aratipu review also reportedly recommends that Super Rugby feeds into something with broader “international appeal”.
The report will be welcomed warmly in the Pacific, with the Islands having long stressed their desire to have a professional presence in the region. Super Rugby matches hosted by the Chiefs in Suva, Fiji, have been one of the tournament’s few shining lights in recent years, but a team based in the region and made up of local players would likely generate even further interest.
There have long been concerns about the commercial viability of such a team, resulting in proposals that would see a Pacific team play half of its home games in Fiji and then the other half in one of the larger markets in Australia or New Zealand.
The report follows other recent developments that have suggested a trans-Tasman competition will be a reality from 2021, despite the overwhelming success of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
The fledgling New Zealand competition, which was created and commenced just three months after the COVID-19 pandemic sent the country into lockdown, has clearly resonated with fans and television audiences alike.
But New Zealand Rugby’s opinion has always been that Super Rugby Aotearoa would not be sustainable beyond this year and with neighbours Australia also navigating the coronavirus crisis better than most – save for a recent spike in cases in Victoria – a trans-Tasman competition was likely to be the best available option moving forward.
NSW Waratahs chief executive Paul Doorn last week told ESPN that a phone hook-up with his fellow Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby colleagues had been positive and that there was a collective understanding that trans-Tasman was “where we want to head.”
That sentiment was echoed by Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, who is facing an additional fortnight’s quarantine when he arrives in Sydney in a few weeks’ time after having already served the mandatory isolation period in New Zealand upon his return from Scotland.
Rennie said it was imperative Australian players were exposed to quality opposition continually as he steels himself for the challenge of dragging the Wallabies up from a lowly world Test ranking of seventh.
“I think it’s vital for Australian rugby to be playing week in week out against the best,” Rennie told Sky Sport. “While I guess over the last few years it’s been not a helluva lot of positive results; if you look at this year the Brumbies rolled the Chiefs, Rebels beat the Highlanders, the Reds should have beat the Crusaders [having] outscored them in tries and so on.
“So the more we play against them [New Zealand sides] the better and we get confidence [from that] when we get to a national stage. And we have a lot of young kids coming through who have had success against New Zealand teams, so they’re not scarred from the past and I think that’s important as well.”
Suggestions of the demise of SANZAAR – at provincial level — are however at odds with the alliance’s chief executive Andy Marinos’ comments from earlier this week.
Marinos told stuff.co.nz that all four Unions – South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina — remained committed to working alongside one another.
“I have actually been quite bemused by it all because it is more just coming out of certain sectors within New Zealand around not wanting to play in South Africa and wanting to do their own thing,” he said.
“It just seems to be a bit of a chorus in this part of the world (Australasia). SANZAAR, as a joint venture, remain committed to working together and whilst we appreciate coming out of 2020 is going to be slightly different, we are busy working through those permutations.”
It is understood all four unions are united in their commitment to The Rugby Championship.