Trans-Tasman relationship remains challenging; Super Rugby set for two years

Rugby Australia boss Andy Marinos says the trans-Tasman relationship remains "competitive" but that all SANZAAR parties are comfortable following confirmation the final four rounds of the Rugby Championship will be played across Queensland.

After some lengthy and, at times, heated dialogue over the past five days, SANZAAR has at last green lit what Marinos says was always the preferred option for the southern hemisphere rugby showpiece. Starting on Sunday September 12, the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Townsville and then Gold Coast again will play host to the Wallabies, All Blacks, Springboks and Pumas across four consecutive weekends.

While enquiries were made about shifting the tournament to Europe, and South Africa also threw its hat into the ring, Queensland's ability to provide both suitable managed isolation protocols for the Springboks and Pumas, and welcome crowds to games, got it across the line as tournament hosts.

"It was a very emotive last 24 hours, a real big team effort with our staff working closely with the Queensland Government getting the managed isolation approved, which was the biggest piece of the puzzle," Marinos told reporters shortly after the announcement.

"We already had confirmation of the match schedule a couple of days ago so, it was just really getting through this managed isolation piece. And literally minutes before we jumped onto our SANZAAR call last night I got the confirmation from the Premier's office.

"So it was obviously very welcomed news and very well received by SANZAAR partners, and getting the Queensland scenario through was the preferred position of the SANZAAR CEOs. I'm just delighted that we've been able to get it across the line and a really good opportunity for rugby in Queensland and rugby in this country."

The final piece of the Rugby Championship puzzle -- the delayed third Test between Australia and New Zealand -- should hopefully, according to Marinos, be confirmed within the next couple of days. While Perth is locked in as match host, the Test could yet be played across Friday, Saturday or Sunday on the first weekend of September.

New Zealand's refusal to put their players on a plane last Saturday, without certainty around the Rugby Championship saw the Test scratched from what was already a rescheduled date, placed huge strain on trans-Tasman relations.

Marinos and New Zealand Rugby counterpart Mark Robinson each disputed whether RA had been appropriately informed of NZR's media release confirming the All Blacks would not fly to Perth, with the RA boss even stating he didn't believe New Zealand ever had any intention of playing the Test on August 28.

But it appears the trans-Tasman squabbles have cooled, at least for now, though Marinos says the micro-relationship within the SANZAAR alliance is always going to have its issues.

"I think it's competitive," Marinos replied when asked directly about trans-Tasman relations. "Both countries, as it always has been within the SANZAAR joint venture; it's one of those unique constructs where you're the fiercest of rivals on the field and you're all wanting to get the best possible advantage over each other at any given point.

"I'm not going to deny the fact that it's been challenging but I think COVID has presented everyone with very unique challenges and it's how we react and we deal with those challenges that becomes a defining point going forward.

"And as I said, we certainly are now wanting to move forward and we'll continue now to behave in a professional manner in terms of our engagements with New Zealand going forward."

Kick-off times for the final four rounds of the tournament are still to be confirmed, though Marinos indicated they would likely be tweaked to better suit broadcast audiences for each of the SANZAAR nations' "home" games. The historic 100th Test between the All Blacks and Springboks, meanwhile, will now be played in Townsville.

Marinos also commented on the leaked Super Rugby format that is set to be rubber-stamped for next year.

The 12-team competition will reportedly see each of the five Australian, five New Zealand, Moana Pasifika and Fiji Drua franchises face each other once, while three further games for each team will be selected from the top, middle and bottom of the ladder from this year's Super Rugby Trans-Tasman tournament.

It means Rugby Australia has missed out on the conference model it was pursuing, but also that it has likely improved its part of the financial pie to help get the two start-up franchises over the line.

"It's fair to say it's been a very long and protracted process, we both [RA & NZR] came to the table with very different competition models and philosophies," Marinos said. "But we've consistently worked through the different options...we've always got to keep in mind the high performance imperatives and obviously having a product in the market that's going to grow value over time.

"So I think what we've agreed to, for the next two years, is that we've got a model to consider. But we will continue to be open-minded and look at different alternatives if we believe that those will deliver a different and a better outcome going forward. But for the next two years, once we've agreed terms, that model will be in place."