Everything you need to know about Super Rugby's future

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Still trying to wrap your head around the latest in Super Rugby?  Here's everything you need to know about Saturday's critical executive meeting.

When and where is the meeting?

The SANZAAR executive will meet in London on Friday (Saturday morning AEDT), with Australia represented by ARU CEO Bill Pulver and deputy chairman Brett Robinson, to discuss the potential options for Super Rugby from 2018 and beyond.

All four SANZAAR countries must agree on a format, whether that be the current convoluted setup or a new-look competition.

What are the main competition options?


Sticking with the status quo

Public commentary from all parties would suggest the status quo is on very thin ice.

In fact, SANZAAR’s admission that the current model is not working was the reason behind opening this ongoing review in the first place.

The only way SANZAAR will come out of this the same as they went in, is if there is no unanimous agreement on change. And ironically, it seems all anyone can agree is that change is definitely what is needed.

Moving to a 16-team, four conference format

In this model, one South African and one Australian team would be cut.

This seems almost dead in the water, from an Australian perspective, with the cost of travel and logistic issues unlikely to be reduced enough to make axing a team worth it.

Moving to a 15-team, three conference format

For the most part of the review process, a new 15-team competition had firmed as the best case scenario for this SANZAAR meeting, but politics will likely stop this happening.

Australia and South Africa are the key players in this, with South Africa standing to lose two teams and Australia the one.

While there was believed to be some agreement about this possibility in Australia, South Africa’s commitments have not been quite so clearcut.

Australia would not commit to dropping a team if South Africa did not, with a standoff an ugly scenario no one wants.

Keeping 18 teams, moving to three conferences

A new option has emerged in recent days, that could also firm as the most likely, with no teams to be sacrificed.

This option would see a reduction to three conferences of six teams, with Japan possibly added to an Australian group and Argentina to the New Zealand group and all South African sides in their own conference.

With the current broadcast deal running until 2020, this seems like the most expedient change that would occur, if any does, with no change to the number of games and thus not reducing the air time.

Which Aussies are at risk?

It all depends on the format but if the decision comes down that one Australian team will be axed, there are realistically only three teams that could be in the gun.

Queensland and New South Wales are still seen as the traditional rugby states and though the Reds have had their battles on and off the field, they would be far from the first choice.


The Force were fired up in Sydney. Photo: Getty ImageesThe Force were the obvious choice when SANZAAR’s review was announced last year, having been absorbed by the ARU and never making the finals in a decade of existence.

Then, the winds of change blew through -a new fan-ownership model and the vocal support of their players has created a groundswell of positivity around the team.

They kicked off the year with a $1.5 million-a-year sponsorship deal with the WA government and are now sitting on top of the Australian conference after two matches.


The Brumbies are Australia’s most successful franchise on the field but off-field troubles have plagued them in recent years.

An ASIC investigation, a rift between partners and their former CEO Michael Jones and Jones’ own issues internally took the attention off the rugby last season.

Though, current chief Michael Thomson was confident on Friday their historic success, coupled with new investment, would be enough to keep them in.


The Rebels will be hoping for reinforcements in the coming weeks. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Rebels are in an intriguing position.

They’re financially one of the most stable franchises, in private ownership, but a diabolical start to the year put them in the spotlight.

They’ve conceded 127 points in two games so far, and though they have their fair share of Wallabies representatives, the on-field leap they need has yet to be made.

Owner Andrew Cox has defended his franchise in recent days, adamant it would be financially unwise for the Rebels to be cut and though he’s probably right, their results don’t lie.

The big players

There are so many stakeholders in this debate, such is the intricacy of the SANZAAR web, but for the purposes of this, we’ve looked at the Australian benefactors.


Cameron Clyne chaired the meeting. Photo: Getty ImagesThe ARU board met last month with the Super Rugby format a key issue and settled on ‘multiple options’ to take to the SANZAAR meeting,  ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said.

Any decision Australian rugby comes to will be based on performance on and off the field.

Last month, ARU COO Rob Clarke said the governing body would not walk away from a ‘successful franchise’, but it’s not clear exactly what type of success is the priority.


The Players’ Association has been very vocal about its support for five Australian teams, which is of little surprise as more teams gives more professional opportunities to the players it represents.

RUPA has long been behind the establishment of a trans-Tasman focused competition, with more local derbies and clashes between Australia and New Zealand.

Their suggestion is that there could then be crossover finals between the top trans-Tasman sides and South African sides. RUPA on Thursday reiterated its commitment to a five-team competition.  


SANZAAR embarked on a wide-ranging review last year and CEO Andy Marinos the organisation would need to be open-minded as to any competition changes in that time.

Broadcast rights holders

FOX SPORTS will deliver all of the Buildcorp NRC games. Photo: GettyIn any change of competition, while the franchises will obviously be impacted, it’s the TV deals that stand to feel the hit just as much.

As TV ratings decline and a new collective bargaining agreement is being negotiated, the last thing the ARU needs is the broadcast pie shrinking.

What are we likely to know on Saturday morning?

In short, not much but maybe a lot. What we will know publicly is whether or not a consensus has been reached about the Super Rugby format going forward.

If there is no unanimous agreement on the format, nothing will change. If there is a unanimous decision, how Super Rugby looks from 2018 onwards won’t be known publicly just yet.

Where do we go from here?

If a consensus is reached between the four partner nations, then each will return home and let key stakeholders now the details and get their agreement on the changes.

From there, the news will be released to the public.