The South African Rugby Union (SARU) has confirmed it will withdraw teams from Super Rugby in favour of playing in Europe’s PRO14 league, blaming New Zealand for its exit from the competition.
- The SARU said its move was forced by the decision making of its New Zealand counterpart
- South Africa’s four Super Rugby teams — the Bulls, Stormers, Sharks and Lions — are set to join the PRO14
- The Springboks will continue to take part in the Rugby Championship for the time being
The decision was made after a vote of SARU’s provincial unions and the defection could come into effect as soon as next year if an agreement is reached with PRO Rugby Championship, which runs the PRO14.
It would mean the top four teams in South Africa — the Bulls, Stormers, Sharks and Lions — will play their domestic rugby against clubs from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy.
The world champion Springboks would still play Tests against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina in the four-nation Rugby Championship.
Realistically, however, South Africa’s participation in the Rugby Championship might also be reconsidered once its top domestic teams’ seasons align with the Northern Hemisphere.
SARU said its move was forced by New Zealand’s “unilateral” decision to organise its own domestic competition, or possibly a trans-Tasman competition involving Australian and other teams for next year.
That appeared to be because of uncertainty over whether a traditional Super Rugby tournament could go ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, SARU said it considered it a slight to not be consulted.
“Our members are excited about the prospect of closer alignment with PRO Rugby Championship and seeking a Northern Hemisphere future, but we would not have been taking this decision but for actions elsewhere,” SARU chief executive Jurie Roux said in a statement.
“We will advise our SANZAAR partners of the general meeting’s decision.”
Despite Roux’s comments blaming New Zealand, there have been strong rumours for years that South Africa was seeking to leave Super Rugby and play in European competitions, given the similar time zone.
South Africa may still have one team in a reduced future Super Rugby tournament, with plans to negotiate with the competition’s governing body SANZAAR to put the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs in any new version of the tournament.
The Cheetahs have been part of the PRO14 since 2017 after being cut from Super Rugby but will go the other way and rejoin Super Rugby if an agreement is reached between SARU and SANZAAR.