New Zealand Rugby Chairman Brent Impey has confirmed that the five-team Super Rugby Aotearoa competition will continue in 2021, but has left the door open for a crossover tournament with Australia following the regular season.
Additionally, a further three sides from the Asia-Pacific region, which could include the Western Force, will be added for the 2022 season, with those sides to be drawn from a four-team short-list to be announced on November 30.
On yet another interesting day of trans-Tasman relations, Impey - who also acts as the chairman of SANZAAR - also doubled down on New Zealand Rugby's campaign that they didn't agree to The Rugby Championship schedule, claiming that the board minutes were not official because the last meeting was on August 4.
"As you know, I am the chairman of SANZAAR and there’s not been a SANZAAR meeting since August 4," Impey told reporters in a last-minute arranged press conference on Thursday afternoon.
"The notes that have been published are not board minutes, there’s been a fundamental error in it as far as we’re concerned which says that the six-week draw was agreed by all.
"I can tell you that it wasn’t.
"We know that, and Rugby Australia and SANZAAR know that because we kept telling them that right up until the time that they announced the draw.
"The notes quite clearly refer to an impasse and there are many emails that prove this, so our position has never changed.
"Having said that, the focus is trying to get the TRC issue sorted and we’re not going to bother to engage in tip for tap on what was in so-called notes, which weren’t minutes and weren’t board minutes either, so we do challenge those that have made comments concerning NZR’s integrity, we defend our position and we’re firm on it."
While the "meeting" was not an official SANZAAR meeting, RUGBY.com.au understands the September 17 meeting, which determined the dates of The Rugby Championship, included only the CEO's of the respective four nations and so, therefore, Impey did not sit on the meeting.
Despite not being an official announcement, Impey opted to get on the front-foot to give New Zealand some positive news by spruiking the Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021 tournament.
"COVID has again forced us to think domestically in shaping our competition for next year," he said.
"After the success of the 2020 competition it became really a no-brainer that we do something similar again in 2021.
"Yesterday there was a board resolution to have a five-team Super rugby competition, but this is subject to constant dialogue with the players’ association, SANZAAR, SKY and others, so we’re not quite ready to make an official announcement but we will be doing that in the coming days."
The news will go down like a lead balloon for those calling for a Pacifica side to be immediately added to the competition.
But Impey said that the board didn't feel that any of the teams that "expressed interest" to join Super Rugby Aotearoa were in a position to be competitive in 2021.
"There’s been a lot of speculation around our keenness to include a Pacifica team in Super Rugby and we’re still committed to getting that across the line at some point, but the board believes that we must get this right," Impey said.
"The board wasn’t satisfied at this point that any of the applicants were able to put out a team.
"The last thing that we want is for any team to come in and get smashed.
"And yes, there were parties that wanted licenses for 2021 but we considered both on the field and off the field none were ready."
Interestingly, the Force didn't win a match in 2020 after being brought into Super Rugby AU at the last-minute.
Impey wouldn't confirm any of the short-listed teams because of confidentiality, but said that they had been in dialogue with the Australian team.
"As far as the Western Force are concerned, we have had positive dialogue with Global Rapid Rugby and that continues," he said.
"They’ve been very open with what their ambitions are and we have an ongoing dialogue with them."
After only having a regular season in 2020, Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021 will see a finals system included.
Following that, Impey confirmed that a trans-Tasman competition was being drawn up after the respective seasons.
"We want to continue with Australia in a crossover competition of some kind once rugby Australia and 2021 has been completed," he said.
Meanwhile, Impey played down the rift between Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby.
Impey described the comments coming from Australia as "banter", adding that he hoped their trans-Tasman rivals would be included in any competition with New Zealand going forward.
"I think that the situation regarding Australia has kind of been beaten up a little bit," Impey said.
"As far as we’re concerned, we continue to remain in dialogue with a crossover competition.
"As you all know, they didn’t want to be involved in our expression of interest - that’s entirely up to them - but we have the door open to them in dialogue around a crossover competition once Super Rugby Aotearoa is over in 2021, and we’ve also left the door open for dialogue on a trans-Tasman type competition on the assumption, again, of those legal caveats concerning SANZAAR, RPA etc.
"We are open to that."
Impey added that in hindsight New Zealand Rugby would have handled the Aratipu Report - which suggested New Zealand's preferred model to include as few as two Australian Super Rugby teams - differently.
"The Aratipu Report is what we referred to which recommended the 8-10 team competition, which we have shared out and that was the basis of that recommendation. That may not necessarily hold up," he said.
"We have continued in dialogue with Rugby Australia.
"I’ve read all the comments which said we said should have done more. In hindsight perhaps we shouldn’t have been so open with Aratipu as we were.
"We decided to be because there was interest in what we were doing, so, yeah, you pay the price.
"I would hate to think that we were arrogant."