The Super Rugby competition will stretch from the last weekend in February to the first weekend of August as part of a new-look tournament agreed by the SANZAR partners.
The revamped tournament will feature an extra team as well as an expanded finals series as part of changes to be proposed by the SANZAR partners to broadcasters next month.
The new 24-week Super Rugby competition guarantees each team a minimum of eight home matches and a 16-match regular season. A new six team finals series includes an extra round with two “sudden-death” qualifiers before the semifinals.
All teams will have a three-week bye while the tournament is suspended during the June International Test window, while the Tri-Nations series has also been given a new time slot in the calendar to run at the conclusion of Super Rugby.
The expanded competition has a 2011 launch date, with the current broadcast agreement to expire at the end of 2010.
“It has been an intense negotiation but we believe the outcome is a very good one for rugby, for the SANZAR alliance, for our players and fans and for broadcasters,” said Andy Marinos, the CEO of SANZAR.
“We were all committed to an expanded tournament and have been able to make it work, taking into account the different landscapes of our domestic game. What we have agreed upon is a competition with added domestic interest and a compelling international component that will see Super Rugby retain its status as rugby’s toughest provincial competition.”
Key features of the proposed new SANZAR landscape are:
· A 15th team playing in the Australian conference will be added to Super Rugby following a tender process open to all territories, and with SANZAR making the decision on the new side’s location. A timetable for tenders will be released shortly to ensure adequate lead-in time is provided to the successful bidder;
· The Tournament will kick off in the last week of February and conclude in the first week of August, except in 2011 when the calendar will be shifted earlier to accommodate Rugby World Cup;
· Teams will be divided into three national Conferences of five teams each. The new team will compete in the Australian Conference;
· Teams play the other four teams in their Conference twice (home and away);
· Teams play four out of the five teams from the other two Conferences (four home, four away);
· All teams will have a three-week bye during the June Test window;
· The three Conference winners and three wildcard teams with the highest number of competition points from any Conference qualify for the play-offs;
· The wildcard teams and the Conference winner with the least competition points will play an elimination round to meet the two Conference winners with the greatest number of competition points in the semi-finals;
· Tri-Nations will always kick-off in South Africa in mid-August and conclude with two of the three trans-Tasman matches in early October to allow for early release of Springboks to Currie Cup. The will allow for Tri Nations tests between particular teams in particular countries to become permanent fixtures on the rugby calendar.
Australian Rugby Union Managing Director and CEO John O’Neill said: “This new structure will enable us to further embed Super Rugby as the premier provincial competition in world Rugby.
“The extended season, the home and away local derbies and a new-look finals series – we are building on what has already been an enormously successful Rugby tournament.
“This is an important and necessary evolution for Super Rugby and the fans, I’m sure, will embrace the changes we have made.
“From an Australian perspective, having a presence in the marketplace from February to August delivers us the capacity to compete with the other codes from a stronger and more compelling position. Australia is the only country in the world where four football codes compete head to head.
“Expanding the Super Rugby season presents us with a wonderful opportunity to further increase the profile and popularity of our game – and in the long term that will benefit SANZAR and the game worldwide.”
NZRU CEO Steve Tew said the agreement was a welcome one for rugby in New Zealand given the value that New Zealand’s fans, players, partners and media place on the strength of the southern hemisphere competitions and the contribution that makes to maintaining the competitive edge for rugby below the equator.
“We have said at every juncture that our preference was to maintain the three-country alliance and to build on it. We are delighted that we have reached an agreement which allows us to move the Super Rugby competition to a new platform which we believe will capture and excite rugby fans in all three countries. It will also create benefits for our players and Super Rugby franchises and give us a certain competition structure we can build on in future years and a protected window for our domestic competitions.”
The SANZAR partners will present the proposed structure to the rights-holding News Corporation by the end of June. Any new deal only comes into force from the 2011 season.
Fact Box – What the changes mean
|Current Super 14||New Super Rugby from 2011|
|Number of teams||14||15|
|Regular season matches per team||13||16|
|Regular season home matches per team||6 or 7||8|
|Regular season away matches per team||6 or 7||8|
|Total number of regular season matches||91||120|
|Regular season matches played in each country||NZ/SA – 32 or 33
Aus – 26
|NZ/SA – 40
Aus – 40*
|Play-offs format||4 teams over two weeks||6 teams over three weeks|
|Number of play-off matches||3||5|
|Number of play-off matches guaranteed per country||None||1|
|Byes per team||1||RWC year – 2
Standard year – 5
|Total competition length (weeks)||16||RWC year – 21
Standard year – 24
|Start date||13 February (2009)||RWC year – 19 February
Standard year – 25 February
|End date||30 May (2009)||RWC year – 9 July
Standard year – 4 August
* If the new team is an Australian franchise