Rugby Australia is reportedly pursuing a five-team national competition that includes exiled Super Rugby franchise Western Force.
In a major development for the struggling 15-man code, a national competition featuring the NSW Waratahs, Queensland Reds, ACT Brumbies, Melbourne Rebels and Force could be up and running as early as July.
The ABC reports the split away from international Super Rugby franchises would allow a competition to resume this year while international coronavirus restrictions remain in place.
It was last week reported Super Rugby trans-Tasman finals appeared unlikely as Rugby Australia shifted its focus towards establishing a domestic competition with a July 3 start date.
Rugby Australia’s Return To Play committee has been meeting regularly to lay down plans for a new-look competition.
ABC sports reporter David Mark first reported the backflip to allow the Force back into Australia’s top-level club competition after the franchise was infamously kicked out of the competition at the end of the 2017 season.
“The ABC understands an Australia-only five-team Super Rugby competition will include the Western Force and could be running by July at the earliest,” Marks posted on Twitter.
RA will give Super Rugby clubs a COVID-19 education briefing early this week, with players set to resume training on Monday, May 18, giving them seven weeks ahead of a Friday July 3 start.
Similar to New Zealand’s “Super Rugby Aotearoa” which was announced this week, it’s set to be a 10-week round-robin competition involving the five Australian franchises, with no crowds.
“It’s progressing really well and at this stage the draft date is the third and fourth of July although there’s a lot to happen before that’s absolutely confirmed,” Melbourne Rebels chief executive Baden Stephenson, who represents the Super Rugby clubs on the seven-man Return To Play committee, said last week.
“The conversations and the draft draw include the Western Force but there’s a lot of work still to get done there.
“There’d be more interest in a domestic competition if they are in it and they’ve got a good team and good coach and were preparing for Rapid Rugby so it makes sense if it can all align.”
He said it was unlikely scheduling would allow trans-Tasman Super Rugby “finals” even if travel restrictions between Australia and New Zealand were eased.
“My gut feel is no at this stage,” he said.
“I think both Australia and New Zealand will commit to a domestic competition.
“I think we’d love to do some cross-over finals with New Zealand teams but the draft schedule is just a domestic competition and then international preparation and then we will get into the Test matches.”
While the NRL will have less than three weeks of contact training, rugby believes its players – particularly tight forwards — need more lead-in time with the proposed dateline giving them a month.
— with AAP