Rugby greats urge caution over possible Super Rugby split

An Australian rugby great has urged Rugby Australia to proceed with caution over a possible move to leave Super Rugby.

Hoskins Sotutu of the Blues scores against the Brumbies
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan has told New Zealand Rugby that next season’s Super Rugby Pacific could be the last and that they could set up a domestic competition instead in the lead-up to hosting the 2027 World Cup.

“We’ll honour our commitments in 2023 but we need to see what’s best for rugby in Australia leading up to the RWC (World Cup) in Australia in 2027,” McLennan told Australian broadcaster Fox Sports.

Former Wallaby Tim Horan urged Rugby Australia to be careful with any moves to walk away.

The relationship between the two nations has been strained since 2020, when New Zealand argued an eight team competition should include just two Australian franchises.

Speaking on Stan Sport, Horan said both sides needed to consider the long-term implications of dissolving Super Rugby Pacific.

“I think we’ve got to be really careful with this, we need the All Blacks and they need us just as much,” said Horan.

“How are you going to have a competition with five Australian Super Rugby sides, you’d get sick of playing each other.

“The fans are just starting to get an understanding of where the calendar lies and the 12 teams.

“I know Hamish is throwing a hand grenade, but we need them.”

The only statement New Zealand Rugby has made is that it is committed to its relationship with Rugby Australia.

Former Wallaby Tim Horan.

Tim Horan
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Former All Blacks first five Andrew Mehrtens doesn’t believe a split would be beneficial for Rugby Australia.

“I don’t think it would be in the best interests of Australian rugby to isolate, to be honest,” he said on Stan Sport.

“You can find paths that benefit each country, as well as benefiting the two together, and I am sure they will be working with that. I reckon New Zealand would want to work together.

“I think rugby support in Australia is better served and better channelled and better attracted in the format of Super Rugby we have seen this year. Next year will be even better with, fingers crossed, a fully blended season right from the start.”

The statement from McLennan could be a part of his bid to get a better share of the broadcast revenue.

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan
Photo: AFP

Fox Sports said NZR received A$91 million from broadcast partners Sky TV, while RA were only getting A$29m for their broadcast rights.

Rugby Australia is considering selling a stake in its commercial assets to private equity, similar to New Zealand Rugby’s deal with U.S. firm Silver Lake.

McLennan said the RA board did not want to “prejudice the PE/debt process” with any competitions presented as a fait accompli.

“Some board members have strong opinions that a domestic-only competition like the AFL (Australian Football League) and NRL (National Rugby League) would generate more money for the game, and that is fair comment.”

Former New Zealand Rugby chief executive David Moffett told RNZ’s Morning Report McLennan’s statement was all about money.

“Both countries are obviously looking at their options past the end of the contract and I can’t see it being in either countries interests to actually pull out of Super Rugby.

“If they were both to go down an isolationist road I don’t think the fans would stick around for long.

“Australians are past masters at one-upmanship and while they haven’t been very successful on the field they play a long game.

“I would expect a new contract to be signed and agreed to and while there is a lot of discussion to happen I fully expect Super Rugby to continue.

Australia’s five teams competed in Super Rugby this year with six New Zealand-based teams (including Moana Pasifika) and Fijian Drua.

Only one Australian team made the semi-finals.

The all-New Zealand final between the Blues and Crusaders is on Saturday at Eden Park.

-Reuters / RNZ

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