Sanzaar, the umbrella body for the national bodies of rugby union in Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, has hit out at ongoing reports over the future direction of its competitions, stating media claims are nothing but “unsubstantiated speculation”.
At the weekend, the Wales Online website said three more South African franchises are set to leave Super Rugby to play in the Europe-based Pro14 competition. The Durban-based Sharks were named as the first to potentially leave for the 2019-20 season, followed by the Lions and Stormers by at least the start of the 2020-21 campaign.
This would leave Super Rugby with just one South African team, Pretoria-based Bulls, and the report came after Australian media group Fairfax Media last week reported on the prospect of a return to Super Rugby expansion amid a major strategic review embarked upon by Sanzaar that also outlines new events and reforms for the Rugby Championship.
Fairfax said it had obtained a high-level paper, entitled Sanzaar 2030 Strategy, that represents the first review of its kind in the 23-year history of the Super Rugby club competition. However, following the Wales Online report, Sanzaar has felt the need to outline its position.
“Sanzaar – through its joint venture partners – Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa – is currently engaged in a detailed strategic planning process that will deliver a road-map for the organisation, Super Rugby and The Rugby Championship from 2018-2030,” Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos said in a statement on Monday.
“As part of this process the partners have fully committed to the strategy and future participation. Any talk of a change to the stakeholder relationship and partners withdrawing, and so-called trans-Tasman competitions is unsubstantiated speculation and simply wrong.”
Super Rugby expanded from 15 to 18 teams in 2016 following the addition of Argentina’s Jaguares and Japan’s Sunwolves, as well as the return of the Kings in South Africa. However, Sanzaar faced criticism over falling revenues and fan interest following its decision to expand leading to the 2018 Super Rugby season commencing with a three-conference, 15-team format which meant the removal of the Kings and fellow South African franchise the Cheetahs, who headed to the Pro14, along with Australia’s Western Force.
Marinos added: “Everything has been on the table – status quo, expansion, contraction, competition formats, etc – as part of our initial blue-sky thinking. We basically started with a blank piece of paper and now we are doing the detailed analysis on what is viable, sustainable and best for our competitions.
“There is an incredible amount of detailed work taking place in this review and we have specialist groups working across all aspects of the review. Therefore it is very disappointing that various aspects of the initial work in terms of potential tournament formats been taken out of context and aired in public.
“Potential expansion into new markets for example should not be confused with only an increase in teams. We are already in the process of taking the established product to new markets. Matches being played in Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji and Samoa are examples of this.
“We are especially mindful at present that we have just come out of a process that has seen a contraction of Super Rugby. The introduction of new teams or any form of expansion would need to meet a defined set of criteria that have been established.”