New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson didn’t spit out his breakfast when news landed of South Africa turning their back on Super Rugby.
Robinson simply wasn’t surprised on Wednesday morning, after South African rugby bosses voted in favour of entering the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into an expanded Pro14.
“SARU has signalled for some time now they were looking at aligning with the northern hemisphere season. All of the Sanzaar partners had agreed to look at more domestically related competitions in 2020 and 2021,” Robinson said in a New Zealand Rugby statement.
“During times like these, change is inevitable, and we need to be willing to adapt quickly. "We were thrilled with how Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa was received this year and are excited about what is shaping up for 2021.”
However, South African Rugby Union chief executive Jurie Roux made it clear departing Super Rugby wasn’t their preference, but rather a must due to New Zealand Rugby’s push for a domestic, trans Tasman or Pacific competition in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Roux said NZR’s stance made it impossible to deliver the 14-team, round-robin, Super Rugby competition which had been agreed upon by all parties pre Covid-19.
“Our members are excited about the prospect of closer alignment with PRO Rugby Championship and seeking a northern hemisphere future, but we would not have been taking this decision but for actions elsewhere,” said Roux.
The news has also prompted Sky, which has Super Rugby broadcasting rights, to make a statement to the New Zealand Stock Exchange.
“While the implications of the SARU decisions are yet to be fully discussed with New Zealand Rugby and its Sanzaar partners, Sky continues to have the right to broadcast all premium rugby content, including the likes of the upcoming Bledisloe Cup and The Rugby Championship matches, in New Zealand under the ongoing Sanzaar arrangements,’’ Sky’s statement said.
“In addition, Sky enjoys a separate partnership agreement with New Zealand Rugby which gives Sky exclusive rights to any non-Sanzaar matches and competitions played in this country until at least 2025.”
South African rugby chiefs say they will now accelerate preliminary conversations about Pro14 involvement, but it seems the Springboks will still be in a southern alliance for annual test rugby against the All Blacks, Wallabies and Pumas.
More friendly time zones for viewing and travelling, and a lucrative European TV market, have finally proven irresistible after more than a year of debating a move which was hastened by the impact of Covid-19.
“We're also pleased to hear confirmation of South Africa's ongoing commitment to remain a key partner in Sanzaar, which strongly aligns with NZR's position. We look forward to seeing the Springboks in action during the upcoming Rugby Championship in Australia,” Robinson said.
The Cheetahs and Southern Kings having played in the Pro14 since 2017 and will now be replaced by the more competitive teams.
There has been speculation that the Cheetahs could now be involved in a revamped Sanzaar Super Series.
"Our members are excited about the prospect of closer alignment with the PRO Rugby Championship and seeking a northern hemisphere future, but we would not have been taking this decision but for actions elsewhere," Roux said in a statement.
South Africa were on the outer in Super Rugby with New Zealand and Australia looking to go in a different direction to try to combat the travel restrictions that have come with the international health crisis.
-Stuff Rugby NZ