(For information on the current Super Rugby Pacific Tournament click HERE)
History - the early days
In 1986 NSW and Queensland played against Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington from New Zealand, as well as a composite Fiji side.
For five years the tournament was played, a South Pacific Championship or Super Six, which led to ‘expansion’ when South Africa re-entered the rugby world and it was reborn into the Super 10 in 1993, where it ran until 1995, prior to the game becoming professional.
In 1996 as SANZAR was formed, the Super 12 was created, a professional competition and the first official ‘international domestic’ tournament featuring the strongest teams – which would become franchises – across New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
Five franchises were created in New Zealand, merging the 26 domestic unions. The Kiwi sides are representative of their 'catchment areas' (the collection of unions that make up the franchise). The three Australian teams were the traditional rugby states of New South Wales and Queensland and a new team from the ACT called the Brumbies. For the first three years of the competition, South Africa determined its sides via qualification in the Currie Cup, with the four semi-finalists from the previous season taking part, before they loosely followed the Kiwi model and created franchises from combined Currie Cup unions.
In 2006 Super 14 came into fruition, with the Western Force and Cheetahs joining the fold, naturally extending the round-robin regular season competition, while the Super Rugby Final’s Series format of the top four playing semi-finals continued.
In 2011, Super Rugby expanded to 15 teams - with the Melbourne Rebels the new franchise - and was split into three conferences, each with five teams and based in one of the three nations.
At the same time, the regular season expands to 16 matches with each team will playing a double round-robin within its home conference, and single matches against four teams from each of the other conferences.
The Finals Series expand to six teams, with the conference winners joined by the three non-winners with the most competition points without regard to conference affiliation. The two conference winners with the most competition points received a first-round bye.
In 2011 the Reds became the first Australian team outside the Brumbies to win a title, winning Super Rugby with a victory over the Crusaders in what was dubbed the battle of the hardship teams - with Queensland hit by floods and Christchurch rocked by a earthquake which disrupted both team's season.
The Chiefs went back-to-back the following two years with wins over the Sharks and Brumbies respectively, the Waratahs held the trophy aloft in 2014 with a thrilling win over the Crusaders while the Highlanders beat the Hurricanes to keep the trophy in the final season of Super Rugby as we knew it.
2016 - 2017
In 2016, the evolution of Super Rugby continued with three new sides introduced to an expanded four-conference 18-team. The Kings from South Africa returned to the fray, along with new teams: the Jaguares from Argentina; and the Sunwolves from Japan, taking Super Rugby to new places, new markets and new crowds.
The 18 teams were arranged in four conferences.
The season comprised 135 regular season matches played across 17 rounds. After the regular season an eight-team, three-week, seven-match finals series determined the overall winner.
Regular Season Pool Matches (two-year rotation)
- Each team played 15 matches (and has two byes).
- Each team will played 6 matches within its Conference
- Each team will played 9 matches against other Conference teams
- Each team had eight home matches and seven away matches (alternated over the two-year rotational draw cycle)
- Internal and cross conference opposition ‘swapped’ over the two-year draw cycle.
Qualify for finals
- 4 Conference winners (host quarter-final)
- 4 wildcards places
- Best placed runner-up team (based on tournament points) from either Africa 1 or Africa 2 Conference
- Three next best teams (based on tournament points) from either the New Zealand or Australian Conferences
The teams winning places in the Finals (Conference winners and wild cards) ranked 1-8 based on the final number of competition points attained and the following order.
QF 1: 1 v 8
QF 2: 2 v 7
QF 3: 3 v 6
QF 4: 4 v 5
Rank 1-4: Conference winners - rank determined by final number competition points
Rank 5-8: Wild card rankings determined by final number competition points
SF 1: Winner QF 1 v Winner QF 4
SF 2: Winner QF 2 v Winner QF 3
Winner SF1 v Winner SF2
2018 - 2019
In a brave move that recognised that the 18-team format did not work, was confusing and had diluted the standards of the competition, SANZAAR announced in April 2017 that the tournament in 2018 would be restructured. The 18-team, four Conference format was changed to a 15-team, three Conference format. Gone from the competition were the Force (Australia), Kings and Cheetahs (South Africa). The Jaguares remained in the now one South African Conference while the Sunwolves joined the Australia Conference.
Australian Conference: Brumbies, Rebels, Reds, Waratahs, Sunwolves
New Zealand Conference: Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders, Hurricanes
South African Conference: Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers, Jaguares
Each team played 16 regular season Conference matches that included eight matches within their own Conference (home and away) and four matches against teams from each of the other Conferences (home or away). This was 120 matches in the regular season with a seven-match, eight-team finals series.
Competition points were awarded in all Regular Season matches on the following basis:
- Win: 4 points
- Draw: 2 points
- Loss: 0 points for a loss of 8+ points
- Bonus: 1 point for a loss between 1-7 points
- Bonus: 1 point for scoring 3+ tries more than the opponent
- Bye: 0 points
Quarter-final Hosts (4 teams)
Three Conference winners
- Best Wildcard team – (based on tournament points) regardless of Conference
Quarter-final Wildcard spots (4 teams)
- Four next best Wildcard teams (based on tournament points) regardless of Conference
Tie Breaking Rules:
In the event two or more teams equal on tournament points for any position in their respective conference at end of regular season, the following applied to determine final conference positions:
- Most wins from all matches;
- Highest aggregate points difference from all matches;
- Most tries from all matches;
- Highest aggregate difference of total tries for versus tries scored against from all matches;
- Coin toss.
The teams winning places in the Finals were ranked 1-8 based on Conference Winners and the final number of competition points attained and the following order.
- Rank 1-3 Conference winners determined by final number competition points
- Rank 4 – Best Wildcard team based on tournament points
- Rank 5-8: Wild cards determined by final number competition points
QF 1: 1 v 8
QF 2: 4 v 5
QF 3: 2 v 7
QF 4: 3 v 6
SF 1: Winner QF 1 v Winner QF 2
SF 2: Winner QF 3 v Winner QF 4
Winner SF1 v Winner SF2
Super Rugby Reformatted (2020)
Due to circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and governments putting in place strict border controls and limits on international travel, SANZAAR had no option but to suspend the 'regular' 2020 Super Rugby season. Eventually with only seven rounds played in the delayed regular season SANZAAR declared the 2020 competition void after further disruption. There was no winner of Super Rugby in 2020.
However, SANZAAR and its member unions agreed to ensure Super Rugby returned to the field of play later in 2020 through a series of reformatted domestic competitions once government restrictions/quarantine procedures allowed it.
First to kick-off was New Zealand on June 13. Australia followed in July, with South Africa following suit in October that year.
Resumption of Super Rugby
Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa was the first professional rugby competition in the world to have fans return en-masse in the Covid-19 era when the competition kicked off in Dunedin on June 13 when the Highlanders played the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. The Crusaders won the round robin tournament after finishing top of the table [there was no final series].
Super Rugby Aotearoa competition format
- New Zealand’s five Super Rugby clubs (Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders).
- 10-week round-robin (20 matches). Top of table declared winner.
- Eight matches per club – four home, four away and two byes each.
- Two matches per weekend – Saturday and Sunday.
- Match venues: FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton; Sky Stadium, Wellington; Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin; Auckland and Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch.
- Law trials: Golden point tiebreaker [extra-time to be played in event of a draw at full-time; first points scorer to win]; the ability for teams to replace red carded players after 20 minutes; a renewed focus from referees on ensuring a fair contest at the breakdown.
Super Rugby AU (Australia)
Rugby Australia confirmed its domestic competition as part of SANZAAR’s solution for the remainder of the Super Rugby season. The remodelled domestic competition had a planned start date of early July.
Rugby Australia confirmed that the Western Force had officially signed on to join the four Australian Super Rugby teams in an Australia-based competition to be known as Vodafone Super Rugby AU. Due to travel restrictions the Sunwolves (part of the Australian Conference) were unable to compete in the tournament.
The Brumbies finished top of the table to secure home field advantage in the Final. They won the Final beating the Reds [second] who had previously beaten the Rebels [third] in a qualifying Final.
Super Rugby Australia competition format
- Australia’s for Super Rugby clubs (Brumbies, Rebels, Reds and Waratahs) plus Western Force.
- 12 weeks: 10-week round-robin, two week finals series (22 matches).
- Eight matches per club in round-robin – four home, four away and two byes each.
- Two matches per weekend – Friday and Saturday.
- Match venues: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane; CBUS Stadium, Gold Coast; GIO Stadium, Canberra; McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle; Brookvale Oval, ANZ Stadium, Leichhardt Oval and Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney.
- Law trials: Goal-line dropout when attacking player held up over the line; goal-line drop out when a kick into in-goal is forced by defending team; marks only allowed in the in-goal area; the ability for teams to replace red carded players after 20 minutes; 50/22 - a kick taken from within the defending team’s 50m area that travels into touch within the opposition’s 22m area having first bounced in the field of play results in a lineout throw to the kicking team; 22/50 - A kick taken from within the defending team’s 22m area that travels into touch within the opposition’s 50m area having first bounced in the field of play results in a lineout throw to the kicking team; Super Time point tiebreaker [extra-time to be played in event of a draw at full-time; first points scorer to win]
Super Rugby Unlocked (South Africa)
The reformatted 2020 Super Rugby tournament in South Africa comprised seven teams that competed in a single-round, home or away series of matches over seven weeks. Like Aotearoa, there was no final series with the winner being the team with the most number of tournament points after the seven rounds.
The competing teams were the four Super Rugby clubs: Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers, plus the Cheetahs, Pumas and Griquas. The Bulls won the competition finishing first on the table [several matches were cancelled due to the pandemic].
2021 Super Rugby
The ongoing effect of the pandemic and its effect on international travel and cross border sports tournaments meant that the 2021 season was also modified until certainty, vaccines and confidence in international travel could be restored. With Super Rugby due to kick-off in February at the start of the southern hemisphere season uncertainty remained and therefore domestic Super Rugby tournaments were again scheduled.
However, the South African Rugby Union decided that for the present future its Super Rugby teams would compete in an expanded Pro 14 tournament in the northern hemisphere, so its teams (Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers) would not compete in a Super Rugby tournament [like Super Rugby Unlocked in 2020).
New Zealand and Australia scheduled domestic Super Rugby tournaments as in 2020 with Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby AU kicking off in February. Both tournaments to comprise a round robin home and away, and New Zealand added a final match for 2021 with the top two qualifying for the Final. Australia maintained its 2020 tournament format with a two-match Finals series.
In an exciting move NZ Rugby and Rugby Australia also announced a Trans Tasman tournament to be played in May/June following the completion of the two domestic tournaments.
The tournaments to feature all 10 Super Rugby teams with each Australian team to play each New Zealand team [home or away] in 25 crossover matches before a Final.
The Final will be played between the top two placed teams on the combined competition table with the team who finished first to host the decider.
Roll of Honour
2020 No Winner [cancelled due to pandemic]
Super Rugby Unbroken (RSA)
Super Rugby Aotearoa (NZ)
Super Rugby AU (Australia)
Super Rugby Trans Tasman