Super Rugby to expand to 18 teams with Asia in the mix
ARU reveals ‘strong preference’ for Asian team to join ‘Super 18’ in 2016
The Super Rugby competition will expand to 18 teams in 2016, with three new clubs coming from South Africa, Argentina and possibly Asia or the United States, officials said on Thursday.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said a revamp was needed in the southern hemisphere competition, which currently includes five teams from each of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
He said the expansion, which has been approved by governing body Sanzar, would meet South African demands for a sixth team and help establish elite professional rugby in Argentina.
The addition of an 18th team would also take the game to new markets, he said. "There's interest on the west coast of America, there's interest in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan," Tew said, adding that discussions were already under way with credible potential bidders for the groundbreaking franchise.
Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver said the plan gave Super Rugby "the potential to become a truly global competition".
"Our strong preference is for the 18th team to come from Asia. We believe this will attract significant commercial opportunities for us in the future," he said.
Under the new blueprint, the competition will be split into two regional groupings, South Africa and Australasia, each containing two conferences.
The South Africa grouping will have eight teams - including Argentina and the 18th team - with two conferences of four teams. Australasia will have 10 teams, with the five Australian and five New Zealand sides each forming a conference.
Teams will play the majority of their regular season games against sides from their own regional grouping, which Tew said would minimise the large amounts of travel needed under the current format.
Meanwhile, South Africa's Coastal Sharks begin a testing tour of Australasia this weekend bidding to hang on to their tenuous Super Rugby lead with the ACT Brumbies and Wellington Hurricanes waiting to pounce.
Jake White's Sharks lead the southern hemisphere provincial competition by just one point after they were upset at home by the Otago Highlanders last week.
The Sharks take on the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday in the opening match of a four-game tour.
The Brumbies meet the much-improved Canterbury Crusaders with All Black skipper Richie McCaw back in action in Christchurch. The third-placed Hurricanes can also pressure the Sharks if they beat the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday.