Super Rugby Pacific bosses are not looking to cut teams as a way of solving the trans-Tasman competition’s challenges, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief Mark Robinson said on Monday.
A governance review commissioned by NZR and released in August found the 12-team competition was facing “pressing financial issues” and battling waning fan interest.
Australian teams’ struggles have also been cited as a turn-off for fans, leading to a surfeit of lopsided results. However, Robinson said Super Rugby’s new board was not looking at shoring up the competition by shrinking it.
“We have seen in recent times the struggles of clubs in various competitions around the world, and while we have some challenges, we are not at the stage yet of talking about a reduction of teams,” Robinson told New Zealand media on Monday. In 2022, the competition expanded to 12 with the addition of Auckland-based Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua.
Fiji’s first side showed improvement to win six games in the 2023 season but Moana Pasifika, one of six teams based in New Zealand, finished last for a second successive season, having managed one win. No Australian teams have won Super Rugby since the New South Wales Watarahs in 2014, Canberra-based ACT Brumies made it to the semi-finals this year out of the nation’s five teams.
“Our performances to date would suggest that we have not had the depth throughout five teams,” said Rugby Australia boss Phil Waugh. “We can field strong 23’s, it’s when the depth gets challenged that performance suffer.”
“We need to get more creative as to how we back-fill some of those squad depths, and we are working through that.”
Robinson and Waugh said they had discussed ways to improve Super Rugby at an interim board meeting on Monday.
NZR and RA agreed last year to set up a new board with an independent chair and independent directors to govern the competition. Chairman Kevin Malloy said the board would look to be more “fan-focused” after years of gripes about stoppages eating into game time and interruptions by television match officials. He said the board’s immediate priority was securing a good CEO to be the face of the game.
“We live and die on our ability to hire a crack CEO. It’s a really attractive role, and hasn’t had this level of focus before,” he added.