WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Super Rugby matches between Australian and New Zealand teams may return in 2021, if the nations can agree on a format and if pandemic border restrictions allow.
New Zealand Rugby is close to approving plans for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, which will likely involve trans-Tasman matches next year and a New Zealand-based Pacific Islands team from 2022.
Teams from New Zealand and Australia haven't played each other since March when the full Super Rugby competition was abandoned because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 2021 season will see a continuation of the successful Super Rugby Aotearoa competition involving home-and-away matches among New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams, this time with a one-off final added.
That tournament might then be followed by a series of crossovers between the New Zealand teams and Australia’s five Super Rugby teams, which likely will have completed their own domestic tournament.
The establishment of that competition depends on a cooling of the currently heated relationship between Australian and New Zealand rugby unions.
New Zealand Rugby is eager to added a Pacific Island team from 2022, to be based in South Auckland, and has received expressions of interests from several potential team organizations.
Introducing that team in 2021 is unlikely because recruitment for next season is already underway and that would place the Pacifika team at a disadvantage.
The 2022 Super Rugby tournament would comprise a minimum of eight teams, including the Pacific team. Several expressions of interests have been received from teams eager to participate and the tournament might be larger.
The New Zealand Herald newspaper has reported bids from teams based in Fiji and Hong Kong are among those being considered.
New Zealand Rugby is likely to decide the new tournament size and formats by late November. It’s aim is to find a sustainable and commercially successful Super Rugby tournament, even if the coronavirus continues to impact international travel.
The 2021 tournament will not include South Africa which has decided to compete in the northern hemisphere from next season, at least temporarily.
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