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Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan has given an assurance that a Super Rugby Pacific commission will be set up by next season and declared that an Australian team would be cut “over my dead body”.
Amid rising tensions between RA and New Zealand Rugby, the New Zealand Herald reported this week — under the headline ‘Super Rugby Pacific’s future in doubt after Rugby Australia’s ‘betrayal’ of New Zealand Rugby’ — that “RA is reneging on or at least trying to alter many of the conditions that were included in the term sheet it signed”.
The report goes on to say that McLennan and RA no longer support the concept of an independent commission, which both governing bodies agreed would be set up following the announcement in December of a joint-venture agreement for Super Rugby Pacific until 2030.
Six months later, there has been no major progress in forming a commission, which both organisations agreed would have the final say on rules, strategy and commercial operations for the new 12-team competition that was formed in 2022.
The proposed commission would effectively replace SANZAAR at a Super Rugby level.
Following a meeting between RA and NZR officials on Thursday, McLennan said RA “absolutely” wants a commission. However, he admitted RA’s preference is for a smaller group of board members than had initially been agreed last year.
RA chief executive Andy Marinos, RA chairman Hamish McLennan and New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson. Credit: Nine
NZR’s understanding was that the Super Rugby commission would be led by a chief executive and governed by a nine-person board, with representatives from Australia and New Zealand.
“We’ve agreed to the term sheet in its entirety,” McLennan told this masthead. “It’s all about execution and how we’ll best do it.
“We are keen to ensure that SANZAAR — as it pertains to Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia — maintains its integrity and we avoid cost duplication and overlap.
“We have good days and bad days with NZR. I’m sure all will be fine.”
The New Zealand Herald report also stated: “RA has aired concerns that it believes the commission would be able to kick Australian teams out of Super Rugby Pacific on a whim and renegotiate broadcast rights.”
Pressed on those claims, McLennan believed there was no way New Zealand could, down the track, exercise power to kick out one or more Australian teams, such as the Melbourne Rebels or Western Force.
The Western Force were kicked out of Super Rugby in 2017 but returned during the pandemic to participate in an Australia-only competition. They were propped up by billionaire mining magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest.
The Melbourne Rebels, whom the then-Australian Rugby Union considered axing in 2017, have significant support from the Victorian government.
“[Losing Australian teams] is not going to happen. Every major matter has to come back to the respective boards,” McLennan said.
Michael Hooper in action for the Waratahs in Super Rugby Pacific. Credit: Getty
“I’ve committed to [Rebels chairman] Paul Docherty and [Force owner] Andrew Forrest. Over my dead body will they be kicked out.”
After multiple threats to cut ties and start a competition of their own, Australia are now firmly of the belief they are better playing with their Kiwi neighbours.
Super Rugby Pacific, in its current iteration, features five Australian teams and five Kiwi teams, plus Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika.
NZR CEO Mark Robinson told the NZ Herald: “New Zealand Rugby and our clubs’ position is that we see benefit in having a more dedicated, focused Super Rugby in the shape of a commission with dedicated resource around governance and management model that might have more [of] a singular focus and bring fresh perspective to some of the challenges we have historically seen in the competition.
“We continue to work in partnership with Rugby Australia to work through these matters.”
Watch all the action from the Super Rugby Pacific with every match streaming ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport.
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