MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s professional rugby union sides need to improve or next year’s inaugural ‘Super Rugby Pacific’ tournament could be hurt by a lack of competition, former New Zealand captain Kieran Read said.
Governing body SANZAAR on Monday confirmed the 12-team tournament would kick off in 2022, bringing Pacific islands teams into the southern hemisphere provincial competition for the first time.
New Zealand’s teams won 23 of 25 games against their Australian opponents in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, underlining the gulf between the nations’ rugby programmes.
“I think if you look across the board at the competition next year, you’re going to probably look at a 90%, 80% win rate for New Zealand teams,” Read told New Zealand broadcaster Sky Sport.
“That’s not great for the competition, and it’s not going to be great for the guys playing the games.
“So, we do need Australia to step up and hopefully improve their performances.”
Organisers appear to have anticipated a one-sided competition with a format that allows eight teams to qualify for playoffs, ensuring at least one Australian team will feature in the postseason.
Media pundits have floated the idea of a player draft to allow Australian sides to recruit New Zealand talent but New Zealand Rugby (NZR) ruled that out in the short term.
“Whilst we really want to make this competition as exciting as possible, of course as the governing body you have to keep an eye on the strength of our All Blacks, which is also pivotal to our strength as an overall rugby nation,” said NZR high performance boss Chris Lendrum.
However, New Zealand will give a helping hand to Moana Pasifika, which will have mainly Samoan and Tongan players but be based in New Zealand.
Moana Pasifika would be allowed to recruit three New Zealand players, including capped All Blacks, New Zealand players union boss Rob Nichol said.
“You could see up to three players … contracted to New Zealand Rugby and then seconded to play for Moana Pasifika,” Nichol told radio station SENZ.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)