Rugby News

UPDATE 1-Rugby-NZ Rugby still convinced of SANZAAR despite South Africa exit

(Recasts after media conference, adds byline)

WELLINGTON, Sept 30 (Reuters) - New Zealand Rugby continued to insist on Wednesday the SANZAAR alliance governing southern hemisphere rugby was still healthy even after South Africa ditched Super Rugby tournament after 25 years and fired a farewell shot blaming their colleagues in Wellington.

The South Africa Rugby Union said on Tuesday it had voted to pull its four teams out of the cross-border club competition and would look to align with Europe’s PRO14.

That decision came just hours after Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan said their relationship with New Zealand Rugby at its “lowest ebb” as the two bodies traded barbs over the future of the game.

“I think ... we are working in extraordinary times with extraordinary pressure. We think there is a great future with SANZAAR,” NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday.

“We know there are challenges. We know there are tensions. But ultimately we all believe in a common goal around Rugby Championship.”

The world champion Springboks are still expected to play in the Rugby Championship, which also includes the national teams from New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

SARU’s decision to walk away from Super Rugby had been long expected with reports periodically surfacing over the last decade, even if officials kept denying that they were interested in aligning with Europe.

The move by the Cheetahs and Southern Kings to the PRO14 ahead of the 2018 season after they were dumped from Super Rugby after a poorly received expansion to 18 teams in the southern hemisphere competition, however, set the wheels in motion.

“We know that South Africa have been very open about going to the northern hemisphere,” Robinson added. “They obviously feel now is the time to explore that opportunity.”

Super Rugby was already undergoing a realignment for next year, with the Japan-based Sunwolves dropped before the coronavirus pandemic brought the tournament to a shuddering halt in March.

Countries scrambled to organise domestic-only competitions in 2020 and NZR presented a trans-Tasman model involving just New Zealand and Australian teams for 2021.

That “unilateral” decision prompted SARU to decide to realign with Europe, Chief Executive Jurie Roux said in his parting shot to the competition that had been in place since 1996.

Robinson, however, said all NZR was doing was what SANZAAR had agreed.

“All of the SANZAAR partners had agreed to look at more domestically related competitions in 2020 and 2021,” he said.

“We talked about ours a while ago. We haven’t settled on anything yet.”

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Michael Perry