SA Rugby has voted to withdraw its four teams from Super Rugby and will look at entering them in the European Pro14 competition.
The South African board’s chief executive Jurie Roux put the move down to New Zealand Rugby’s decision to go ahead with its own domestic competition, Super Rugby Aotearoa.
“New Zealand’s decision made it impossible to deliver the 14-team Vodacom Super Rugby competition that had been agreed by the partners and for which five-year broadcasting agreements had been signed…Our members are excited about the prospect of closer alignment with the Pro Rugby Championship and seeking a northern hemisphere future, but we would not have been taking this decision but for actions elsewhere,” Roux said.
NZR established the Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament in consultation with Sanzaar, the alliance of Southern Hemisphere rugby unions, after the 2020 Super Rugby season was suspended on March 15 due to Covid-19. Australia also ran its own domestic competition for its Super Rugby teams this year.
New Zealand Rugby’s Mark Robinson told Radio NZ that South Africa had signalled for some time they were looking to align with the northern hemisphere and the decision was not a surprise.
Robinson said Sanzaar’s partners had all agreed to look at more domestically related competitions in 2020 and 2021 and “in the current climate, change is inevitable.”
SA Rugby said it will now step up its engagement with the organisers of Pro14 about taking part in the competition.
The four teams that will potentially make the switch are the Vodacom Bulls, the Emirates Lions, the Cell C Sharks, and the DHL Stormers.
More favourable time zones, more convenient travel arrangements and the larger and more valuable European television markets are also factors behind the move.
Commenting on the SA Rugby decision Mark Alexander, the union’s president said, “These are extraordinary times, if this had been an ordinary year, we would not have had this meeting, but we needed to take radical steps to avoid financial meltdown because of the Covid-19 crisis.”
The move by SA Rugby could also be a worry for the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship.
South Africa are expected to join New Zealand, Australia and Argentina in the re-scheduled tournament from November 7 to December 12, but doubts remain over whether the world champions will join this year’s competition over the level of the team’s preparations.
While South Africa have made no comments about leaving the four nation tournament for now, the same geographical and commercial appeal for the clubs also applies to the national team.
And while the Six Nations is in no rush to change its existing format the availability of South Africa and the commercial benefits they would convey might change that stance.