Australia will create rugby 'bubble' if New Zealand don't play ball - Rob Penney

Waratahs coach Rob Penney has backed Australia to go it alone should New Zealand not play ball on a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition in 2021.

Mixed reports continue to emerge about the proposed competition, the latest of which suggested the New Zealand Rugby board was split as to how many Australian teams they would be prepared to include in a trans-Tasman league.

The Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday reported that half the board were in favour of Australia having only two teams, with a further Pacific Island team and New Zealand's five franchises making up an eight-team competition. If a Pacific Island team couldn't be brought together in time, it is understood a further invitation could be extended to the Brumbies.

Asked about the prospect of such a competition, Penney, a Kiwi himself, said he would have no issue making Super Rugby AU a permanent fixture on the calendar if New Zealand Rugby wasn't prepared to play ball.

"Isolation's probably not the ideal situation for anybody but if New Zealand want to do that [then] it's at their own peril," Penney said. "We'll have a great competition here in Australia and, as we've talked about, there's a great depth of youth coming through, it's very exciting time for Australian rugby, I certainly believe that.

"If New Zealand don't get positive around the relationship they can have with Australia, that's their loss. They probably see themselves in a powerful bubble, which they have done for a number of years, and so be it, we'll create one here and then they'll come knocking I'm sure."

Just what form Super Rugby could take in 2021 is seemingly changing by the day after news earlier in the week that New Zealand's draft Aratipu review had recommended the country pursue a trans-Tasman tournament with Australia and a further Pacific Island team.

It also suggested the need for any competition to feed into something with a broader appeal, raising the possibility of a Champions League-type setup, perhaps after each nation had held its own domestic league.

It certainly seems unlikely that Rugby Australia would go down the path of axing teams as it did with the Western Force in 2017, with the franchise coincidentally set to make its return to the national fold in their Super Rugby AU debut against the Waratahs on Saturday night.

Queensland Reds, whose future would be guaranteed whatever shape a new competition takes given the strength of its playing ranks, wouldn't be drawn on the recent speculation.

A Reds spokesperson told ESPN any future competition was a "matter for RA."

Certainly new RA chairman Hamish McLennan has done his best to unite the game after it sunk into turmoil through the first half of the year; McLennan making a point of travelling over to Perth to meet with Western Force owner Andrew Forrest not long after taking up his position, the meeting helping to secure the Force's involvement in Super Rugby AU.

Conversely, McLennan has acknowledged that Australia does not have the depth currently to sustain five competitive professional teams.

There have also been other suggestions of a merger between the Brumbies and Rebels, which neither club is interested in.

It appears there will be further bartering to play out in the coming weeks, though Rugby Australia must make a decision one way or another it must soon present a competition framework to broadcasters.

RA's recent broadcast announcement only covers this year, the deal ensuring the governing body was able to cut a new pay deal with its players through to the end of the coronavirus crisis.

Incoming Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is seemingly at odds with Penney's summation of the scenario, however.

"I think it's vital for Australian rugby to be playing week in week out against the best," Rennie told Sky Sport on Tuesday. "While I guess over the last few years it's been not a helluva lot of positive results; if you look at this year the Brumbies rolled the Chiefs, Rebels beat the Highlanders, the Reds should have beat the Crusaders [having] outscored them in tries and so on.

"So the more we play against them [New Zealand sides] the better and we get confidence [from that] when we get to a national stage."