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Exclusive: NZ Rugby tables three draft options for new professional competition to replace Super Rugby in 2021

New Zealand Rugby has tabled three draft options for a new professional competition to replace Super Rugby in 2021.

By Scotty Stevenson

Documents obtained by 1 NEWS confirm the union's desire for an eight or 10-team competition with the season to start in late February or early March and conclude with a June 19 final.

The simplest of those options is an eight-team format which will see each team face off home and away over a 15-week regular season. With semi-finals and a final, that would mean 59 games are played in total.

New Zealand Rugby insists all five current New Zealand clubs remain involved and, having shown a desire to also include a Pacific Islands franchise, the eight-team format would leave just two spots available for Australian involvement. Rugby Australia has made it clear it finds such an option unpalatable.

The two remaining options make an allowance for 10 teams, but both create an imbalance with the draw. The first of those options will see each team play four teams twice and five teams once, the second would reverse that order, with each team playing five teams twice and four teams once.

Including semi-finals and a final, option one would create a 68-game season, whole option two would increase that number to 73 games. Both options could make space for up to four Australian sides if parties can agree to terms.

Agreement with Australia is just one of the challenges for New Zealand Rugby as they press ahead with the development of their own competition. The national body is yet to clearly establish what entity will be created to manage and control the commercial interests of the competition, and this has caused tension in negotiations with the existing private investors in the New Zealand franchises.

The licenses to run and market those clubs are up for renewal; the private investors are demanding clarity on just what shape the “Competition Company” set up by NZR will take.

Another sticking point is the ongoing discussion at World Rugby level regarding a streamlined global calendar. The 2021 season makes an allowance for the playing of July test matches, followed by The Rugby Championship and a traditional end of year northern tour.

That could all change in 2022 with a ‘SANZAAR’ window opened mid-July to October followed directly by a cross-hemisphere window running through the end of November.

New Zealand Rugby has expressed an interest in creating a ‘cross-border’ competition in 2022 in which the top four teams from their new tournament would face teams from other club competitions, potentially in a knock-out format.

This could open the door to Japan’s Top League, or potentially the USA’s MLR, with insiders hinting at a more ambitious global approach.

Super Rugby Aotearoa concludes in just three weeks, meaning New Zealand Rugby urgently needs to give its current private investors some certainty for the season ahead. It is understood they want those current private investors to sign new, perpetual, licenses.

Investor representatives are insisting upon more details regarding the competition entity, while some are also baulking at the requirement to greatly increase their capital commitment.

New Zealand Rugby and club representatives are scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss the new format and the renewal of licences.

2021 DRAFT COMPETITION STRUCTURE:

Matches will begin end of Feb/start of March with June 19 slated for the final

Three options

A.      8 Teams

Play all teams home and away.

15-week regular season

Semifinals + Final

TOTAL GAMES: 59

B.      10 Teams

Play 4 teams twice, 5 teams once

14-week regular season

Semifinals + Final

TOTAL GAMES: 68

C.      10 Teams

Play 5 teams twice, 4 teams once

15-week regular season

Semifinals + Final

TOTAL GAMES: 73