Rugby Australia says it is open to working with New Zealand Rugby on plans for a 2021 competition but will be doing that with Australia's best interests at heart after the Kiwis unveiled their preference for next season..
While both Australia and New Zealand have been open about their desire to move away from the current Super Rugby formar, NZR was the first organisation to release its ideal plans, an 8-10 team competition aimed at re-engaging fans.
Despite reports in recent weeks had suggested the NZR board was looking for a competition with as few as two Australian teams, they did not commit to a set number of teams in their statement on Friday.
In detailing their preference for a new professional competition, NZR CEO Mark Robinson said they were working towards shoring up the five Kiwi teams as well as a potential Pasifika team, while "expressions of interest" from Rugby AU's Super Rugby teams and "other parties" would be sought.
While the number of teams is not yet settled, the ideal 8-10 team range could open the door for all five Australian Super Rugby AU teams to be involved or dictate that as few as two would be involved.
There is no obligation or guarantee that Rugby Australia would sign up to the competition, especially if it is forced to reduce the number of teams involved.
Robinson said the success of the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition had been a catalyst for change in 2021.
"Coming on the back of Covid-19 and its impact on future competitons, the NZR Board has committed to establishing a new professional team competition in 2021. We have also been heartened by the success of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa," Robinson said.
"The focus is now on confirming the licenses for New Zealand's five current Super Rugby clubs and that work is now underway. We have highly valued the partnership with these five clubs over the last 25 years of the competition and want that to continue," he said.
"As well, there is a huge desire to have a Pasifika team involved which we think will be massive for the competition, popular with fans and is a priority for us. As we know, our Pacific nations and Pasifika players in New Zealand have added so much to the rich history of rugby in Oceania and our game here in New Zealand. To have a team that would provide an additional pathway for Pasifika players to perform on the world stage would be hugely exciting," Robinson said.
"As well, we will also be working with Rugby Australia to seek expressions of interest from their current Super clubs and other interested parties to join the competition and that work will begin in earnest.
"We are excited and interested to see what our Australian neighbours will bring to this competition."
Rugby Australia has been open about its commitment to maintain at least four Australian teams in 2021 and beyond and in a statement on Friday afternoon said it would be working "constructively" with New Zealand Rugby on the best format going forward.
"Rugby Australia acknowledges New Zealand Rugby’s preferred position following their announcement today regarding a potential future provincial competition from 2021 and look forward to working constructively with New Zealand Rugby in the coming weeks," the statement read.
"Rugby Australia will also continue its discussions with stakeholders in Australia and is in constant consultation with our valued SANZAAR joint venture partners.
"Due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rugby Australia recognises that there is a need to review the sustainability and practicality of the current Super Rugby competition and consider alternative models that are in the best interests of Australian Rugby from 2021 and beyond."
NZR said it hoped to complete the expression of interest process by the end of July.
The New Zealand announcement comes as a result of their recent Aratipu review, which has also recommended other changes to fan engagement and player pathways.