Player draft remains future possibility as Super Rugby welcomes new franchises

Moana Pasifika is one of two new teams that will partake in the new Super Rugby Pacific tournament from 2022. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand Rugby remains open to the possibility of a player draft in the future, but insists any plan to open up cross-border movement would have to be in the best interests of all parties in the new Super Rugby Pacific tournament.

NZR and its Rugby Australia [RA] counterparts on Monday unveiled the new 12-team provincial tournament which will commence in 2022 and be run as a "joint venture" between the two national unions.

After months of protracted and, at times heated, negotiations, the trans-Tasman parties were able to agree on a competition structure that officially welcomes both Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika, whose licenses will be owned and operated by NZR.

The two start-up franchises now face the task of building squads that can be competitive in their first year of existence, though both are thought to be well down the path of player identification.

And while a player draft is not in NZR's immediate consideration, administrators have left the door ajar to potentially opening up cross-border movement in the future.

"Well the short answer is not right now, we're certainly focused on making a really strong start to this competition and watching strength and depth build throughout this competition as its structured and constituted," Chris Lendrum, NZR head of professional rugby and high performance, said.

"In the future, of course you can't rule that out; there are a lot of different factors to take into account in rugby as opposed to say the NRL, where there is a really strong international rugby footprint across our calendar.

"And 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.

"So we're certainly not saying no, we're certainly open to those discussions in the future. But it certainly has to be on a principled basis where it makes sense for all parties."

While NZR might be a way off from allowing a portion of its player base to head across the ditch, or to the Drua or Moana Pasifika, they were forced to come to the table with RA to get Super Rugby Pacific across the line.

NZR had originally desired an eight-team competition, for which they were prepared to admit only two or three teams from Australia.

But almost 12 months on from that announcement, NZR and RA have settled on a competition that includes each of their respective five provincial outfits in a format that returns to a non-conference Super Rugby setup for the first time since 2010.

RA had hoped to retain a conference setup, given the success of its Super Rugby AU tournament this season, but that was never going to wash with NZR. RA has however at least secured a "focus on local derbies" for the three additional games each team will play to ensure each team has seven home fixtures and 14 matches in total.

"Well this is a new competition being bought together by a new entity, in terms of a formal joint venture between New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia, and obviously when you're creating something new, people bring different ideas to the table to discuss," Lendrum said of the tournament discussions.

"And in the meantime we've had a whole lot of other COVID complications that the very same people who are working on this competition are having to deal in terms of Test match scheduling and the like.

"So yep, there were different ideas tabled by both sides, and I guess what I'd say is that 'good things take time'; we've had some robust discussion about that.

"Both Rugby Australia and NZR are really happy with the final format; I think it's got a good focus on local v local content, but it's also got one competition, one table, anybody can win from anywhere, and we're really proud to have got to this point together with them."

Lendrum confirmed SANZAAR would likely be contracted out to provide some services when it came to administering the competition, but that the tournament was effectively under the direction of the new NZR-RA joint venture.

When it was put to him that NZR was seemingly taking the senior role in the partnership, particularly given it would own the licenses for both the Drua and Moana Pasifika, Lendrum insisted that both NZR and RA were on a level playing field when it came to the governance of the tournament.

"The principle that we're working to from a decision-making perspective is that we're equal partners with Australia, right," he said. "Yep, circumstance over the last 18 months has meant that New Zealand is bringing seven license teams to the table in this competition.

"But the new teams' entrances are supported by Rugby Australia; they've done quite a lot to support the Drua both historically and also into this competition...everybody brings different stuff to the table in terms of this competition, but once it kicks off and the whistle is blown, all the key decision-making around the competition is essentially shared equally."