New Zealand Rugby's 25-year Super Rugby relationship with South Africa is effectively over.
NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson confirmed on Friday that the governing body was committed to a “new direction” for 2021 and beyond at Super Rugby level, opening the door to private equity among the ownership options for an Asia-Pacific competition.
“We are very committed to Sanzaar,” Robinson said on Friday.
“The look and shape and feel of how this competition may be owned or run is still to be determined and the way it connects to Sanzaar is yet to be determined.
“But the reality is that the impact of Covid has been so significant that we've had to look at alternatives and a new direction here.”
NZ Rugby is clearly not taking its decision to part ways with South Africa and Argentina at Super Rugby level lightly.
Robinson revealed they were still hopeful of playing against sides from both nations in some form of competition, potentially in a ‘best of the best’ format.
However, he said, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic had been so huge that it had forced NZ Rugby to look at an entirely new competition.
“We started [the] Aratipu [review] with a focus on New Zealand professional rugby entities and to make them more resilient, highly capitalised, fit for purpose businesses within the construct of Super Rugby,” Robinson said.
"Then part way through the process the full ramifications of Covid and the limiting impacts it was going to have become more apparent and obviously more work was needed to determine future competition models.
“We think we can do that by virtue of what we are essentially doing, which is going out to the wider Australasian-Pacific environment to see what we can find out.
“At this stage we're working to 2021 but it’s our preference to work beyond that, but we've got a lot of work to do with Sanzaar around that.”
South Africa's response to the “new direction” will be known in the coming days as they digest the significance of NZ Rugby's decision, but Robinson said they had been kept in the loop, as well as Argentina, throughout the process.
“They've been across all of the dialogue we've had through Sanzaar and we've had a number of conversations with them,” Robinson said.