Super Rugby will expand to 12 teams next year to include two teams from the Pacific Islands, with the season set to start on February 18, Australian and New Zealand officials said on Monday.
Renamed Super Rugby Pacific, the tournament will be played over 14 regular season rounds followed by a three-week finals series featuring the top eight teams.
The plan is for all the teams – five from Australia, five from New Zealand plus Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika – will face off once in 11 weeks, then feature local derbies in the final three rounds of the regular season.
The long-awaited inclusion is designed to enable Pacific island nations of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to reap the rewards of their rich rugby heritage.
“This is a game-changer for rugby in the Pacific and indeed for the rest of the rugby world,” said Andy Marinos, Managing Director of Rugby Australia.
“We have seen the brilliant rugby that Fiji is playing in all game formats and their inclusion will make this new competition one of the toughest in the world. “
Marinos said the Pasifika squad, which is expected to consist mainly of players from Samoa and Tonga, will play most of their home games in New Zealand and that Drua will announce their plans soon.
Organizers have ditched the conference system that Super Rugby used before the global pandemic resulted in the exclusion of South African teams and the Argentine Jaguars from the competition.
Travel permitting, the season will be played as a single block from February to June, removing the mid-season break needed in previous years to accommodate international test matches.
“We are entering an incredibly exciting new phase for rugby in the Pacific region,” said Chris Lendrum, New Zealand Rugby Performance Manager.
“Trans-Tasman rivalries are crucial to our sport in the Southern Hemisphere, and the existing Super Rugby clubs have built a wonderful history and legacy over 26 years. “
© 2021 AFP