New Zealand Rugby Union boss Steve Tew was forced into the role of moderator today as Australian counterpart John O’Neill espoused a radical plan to revamp Super rugby.
The NZ Herald reports that O’Neill said “high level discussion” had begun on a plan to expand the tournament to 6-1/2 months from February to August, include a new Tokyo-based side and feature a six-team final series.
The tournament would be in a two-round format, with a full round-robin phase followed by a round featuring “local derbies” among the home teams of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The Tri Nations series would be held straight after the Super tournament, with tests involving northern hemisphere countries likely to be played midweek.
O’Neill said the increase in product would appease broadcasters when Sanzar renegotiates its broadcasting deal for beyond 2010.
He wanted Japan in the new tournament because of its considerable financial muscle.
“We want to really accelerate Japan’s move into the proper professional era,” O’Neill told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“We’re trying to expand Super rugby to 26 weeks. And the possibility of joint-venturing a team in Japan, with half the team Japanese and the other half foreign players – predominantly Australian – is worth a look.”
Tew said a decision on any change to the Super rugby format was only in the preliminary stage at Sanzar level.
O’Neill had put forward a format that wouldn’t necessarily get agreement from the two other nations which had domestic competitions to cater for, Tew said.
“John has floated one option that would clearly suit the Australian set of circumstances, probably better than ourselves or South Africa,” he said.
“The NZRU has made a commitment inside the Sanzar organisation to have a very open mind as to what the next version of Super rugby might look like.
“There are any number of things we would need to consider, though, in terms of finding our position.”
Tew agreed Japan harboured enormous commercial clout but the needs of Argentina, the Pacific islands and, ultimately, North America still needed consideration.
“There needs to be a more strategic look at how Super rugby might unfold,” Tew said.
“We wouldn’t dismiss John’s thoughts out of hand… we see the gateway to Asia as being important.
“But there’s also a considerable amount of talking and thinking and analysing and assessment to be done before we would favour one or other of any expansion of Super rugby.”
Tew said New Zealand’s view would be shaped to a degree by a provincial union forum in two weeks which will ” map out what the future of what New Zealand rugby will look like”.Tweet