Super Rugby gets Pacific rebrand for new season

Wellington (AFP) –


Super Rugby will expand to 12 teams next year to include two Pacific island teams, with the season set to kick off on February 18, Australian and New Zealand officials said Monday.

Rebranded as Super Rugby Pacific, the tournament will be played over 14 regular-season rounds followed by a three-week finals series featuring the top eight teams.

The plan is for all teams -- five from Australia, five from New Zealand plus the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika -- to play each other once over 11 weeks, then showcase local derbies in the final three regular-season rounds.

The long-awaited inclusion is designed to allow the Pacific island nations of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to reap the rewards of their rich rugby heritage.

"This is a game-changer for Rugby in the Pacific, and indeed, the rest of the rugby world," Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos said.

"We have seen the brilliant rugby that Fiji play in all formats of the game and their inclusion will make this new competition one of the toughest in the world."

Marinos said the Pasifika team, expected to mainly feature players from Samoa and Tonga, will play most of its home games in New Zealand and the Drua would announce their plans soon.

Organisers have ditched the conference system that Super Rugby used before the global pandemic led to South African teams and Argentina's Jaguares being dropped from the competition.

Travel permitting, the season will be played in a single bloc from February to June, dropping the mid-season break needed in previous years to accommodate international Test matches.

"We are entering an incredibly exciting new phase for rugby in the Pacific region," New Zealand Rugby performance manager Chris Lendrum said.

"The trans-Tasman rivalries are crucial to our sport in the Southern Hemisphere, and the existing Super Rugby clubs have built a wonderful history and legacy over 26 years."