Super Rugby Reformatted
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 in 25 crossover matches before a Final.
All teams will play two home games and two away games as well as a ‘Super Round’, where all matches played in Round Three will be played at the one location, over the one weekend.
Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby will announce the process to select the location of the ‘Super Round’ in due course.
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.