Exclusive: In a bombshell moment for the game, Rugby Australia has told its long-time ally New Zealand Rugby they are strongly considering leaving Super Rugby once and for all.
What’s more, RA is considering a domestic-only competition to replicate the AFL and NRL.
RA Chairman Hamish McLennan informed his NZR counterpart Stewart Mitchell over dinner they were strongly considering calling it a day on their partnership following the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season.
“We’ll honour our commitments in ’23 but we need to see what’s best for rugby in Australia leading up to the RWC in Australia in ’27,” McLennan told foxsports.com.au.
“All bets are off from ’24 onwards with NZ.”
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There has been a strong dose of bitterness ever since former NZR Chairman Brent Impey cast aside South Africa and Argentina following the onset of Covid-19.
The disappointment continued when NZR told RA they only wanted two Australian sides to participate in their next Super Rugby iteration.
Two years on and NZR has since changed their tune, admitting to RA officials they got it wrong and have been pleasantly surprised by the vastly improved showing of their neighbours across the ditch.
Off the back of Australia’s much-improved showing in 2022, which included three sides making the finals and the Brumbies going within a whisker of knocking over the Blues at Eden Park in the semi-final, NZR wants to extend their deal with RA beyond 2023.
McLennan and RA board member Phil Waugh informed Mitchell they were considering walking away at a dinner earlier this month.
Previously all the broadcast money, which SuperSport in South Africa pumped in the most, was split equally between all three inaugural SANZAR partners. That extended to Argentina when the South Americans were included in the competition in 2016.
That is not the case today.
NZR is being paid $91m by broadcast partners Sky, which dwarfs the $29m figure RA is receiving a year.
RA believes for the partnership to be one that benefits both parties they should be compensated.
“The RA Board doesn’t want to prejudice the PE/debt process with any competitions presented as a fait accompli,” McLennan said.
“Some board members have strong opinions that a domestic only competition like the AFL and NRL would generate more money for the game and that is fair comment.”
More than 40,000 supporters flocked to Suncorp Stadium to watch the Reds defeat the Brumbies in the 2021 Super Rugby AU final.
Were RA to end their partnership with NZR, they would considering adding a second side in NSW and Queensland.
Fiji’s addition has also pleased RA, while Japanese representation is still a consideration.
Crucially RA have the support of their stakeholders, with Super Rugby franchises backing the governing body.
“I can definitely say that all the Super Rugby chairs are behind the thoughts of Rugby Australia and definitely want to explore, as we rightly should be able to, explore our options moving forward,” Brumbies chairman Matt Nobbs said.
“We need to act in the best interests of the game and our financial viability comes into that as well.”
Nor have they ruled out strengthening their relationship with SANZAAR allies South Africa and Argentina, particularly as the governing body considers selling off some of its commercial arm through private equity.
Just weeks after NZR signed a $AU180 million private equity deal with US firm Silver Lake, South Africa are moving closer to striking their own deal with CVC, who last year signed a $AU636 million Six Nations deal.
While NZR is hopeful their trans-Tasman neighbours will sign with Silver Lake to strengthen their alliance and further develop Super Rugby, they could yet be derailed should RA side with CVC who have completely different ideas of which direction to take the game.
RA CEO Andy Marinos, who played for Wales, previously spent more than a decade working with South Africa Rugby and his close connections to the Rainbow Nation could see him strengthen ties with the Springboks.
The governing body could yet decide to sit on any private equity deal and instead borrow money because if they were to sell off their assets now, they would be selling it at its lowest point.
RA is on the precipice of a golden decade, which features a British and Irish Lions series and home men’s (2027) and women’s (2029) World Cups. It also includes a home Commonwealth Games and Olympics in 2032.