Johannesburg - Super Rugby will expand into at least one new continent from 2016 and include a sixth South African team, the South African Rugby Union (SARU) confirmed on Thursday.
The three-nation tournament will expand into South America with the inclusion of a team from Buenos Aires while SANZAR, the body which governs rugby in the southern hemisphere, is seeking another new entrant, which could come from Europe, Asia or one of the foundation nations.
The new 18-team format - an increase from the current 15 - will feature the existing 1 franchises from Australia and New Zealand and six teams from South Africa.
The 18 teams will be divided into four conferences – five teams in the New Zealand conference, five teams in the Australian conference and two South African conferences comprising four teams each. The South African conferences will include the three new entrants.
The new format ticked all the boxes, SARU CEO Jurie Roux
said in a statement.
“The new format and the expansion into what could potentially be two new continents for Super Rugby is a radical departure for the competition but one that takes the competition to the next level,” he said.
“We will have had 20 years of Super Rugby by the time this new structure comes into place and the competition has grown and matured in that time to the place where it was ready to start pushing into new territories.
“The agreed design satisfies the needs of South African rugby, which was built around a number of key principles from SARU's perspective.”
SARU negotiated for the inclusion of a sixth South African team; no increase or a reduction in the travel burden on South African players; a reduction in the number of derbies; the inclusion of a team from Argentina and a financial uplift.
“The agreed format delivers on a reduction in the historic travel burden on our players as well as answering our need for a sixth place in the competition,” said Roux.
“We are delighted to welcome a new entrant from our old friends, Argentina, and there is also a reduction in the number of South African derbies, which are seen as being particularly attritional on our players.
“It was a long hard, negotiation with a large number of alternative formats considered and discarded because they did not fulfil the key criteria. This new model offers a major new step forward for Vodacom Super Rugby with the potential to grow further.”
All four conference winners will automatically host a quarterfinal. The winners will contest the semifinals with home field advantage going to the highest-placed team on overall standings points.
Roux said that SARU would engage in further stakeholder and broadcaster consultation before unveiling draw design specifics, such as the composition of the South African Conferences and providing an update on the tender process for the 18th team in due course.