All Blacks coach backs Australia's Super Rugby teams

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — All Blacks coach Ian Foster has strongly backed Australian involvement in any new Super Rugby competition created next year or after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Relations between New Zealand and Australia have soured since the publication of a New Zealand Rugby review which recommended only two Australian teams be invited to join an eight-team tournament which might replace the existing Super Rugby competition from as early as 2021. All five New Zealand teams would remain, along with a new Pacific Islands team.

Rugby Australia was angered by the recommendation, calling it paternalistic. If a tournament was organized along the lines suggested, Australia would lose three of its current Super Rugby teams.

New Zealand Rugby has been largely unapologetic. For some time NZR has felt the poor form of Australia’s teams has been discouraging to fans and damaging to Super Rugby. It argues that after the financial hit rugby has taken during the pandemic, future tournaments will have to maximize spectator appeal.

Rugby Australia has called for patience, saying Australian teams will improve given time but New Zealand is sceptical.

Foster stepped into the debate Sunday as a diplomat, insisting he has seen improvement in Australian teams during their domestic Super Rugby tournament this season. Both Australia and New Zealand organized domestic Super Rugby tournaments when the coronavirus pandemic ended the full Super Rugby season in March.

“The difference between their first couple of rounds to their last couple has been dramatic,” Foster said. “From an All Blacks coach’s perspective we’ve seen a significant rise in standard in their competition. That bodes well for a Super competition but also for us as we head into a Bledisloe series.”

While New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aoteroa was hugely popular with fans, it is not seen as sustainable. Foster said a new format is needed and Australia should be part of any solution

“A lot of work is in place saying ‘what does a really sustainable competition look like?’,” he said. “Everyone is taking their time to get that right.

“It’s unlikely to happen in 2021 anyway. What we do know is if we get the formula right we’ve got the ability to get our fans engaged and the players excited, then we’re going to continue to get the product we saw this year.

“We need variety in the competition. We’ve got five really strong franchises here and enough talent to fill that five. But adding a few more from Australia in whatever format and whatever number is a logical step.”

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