Plans for Super Rugby’s latest format revamp should be finalised in November, New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said Monday.
The southern hemisphere competition’s governing body Sanzaar has spent more than a year developing a blueprint to ensure Super Rugby’s long-term future when the current broadcast deal expires in 2020.
Tew said the Sanzaar board hoped to sign off on the plans when it meets in London in November.
“At the moment our goal is to determine the final structure and make-up of Super Rugby in November… that’s the timetable we’re working to,” he told reporters.
“I’ve said it before and been wrong but that’s what we’re hoping for.”
Tew was tight-lipped about the options being considered, saying debate was ongoing between SANZAAR’s four member nations — South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.
“We’ve got four countries that all have different imperatives and positions and it’s not helpful to have that conversation in the public domain,” he said.
The decisions reached in London will be crucial to the survival of Super Rugby, which has struggled with dwindling viewers in recent years amid constant tinkering with its format.
The competition straddles 16 time zones and four continents, resulting in complaints of lopsided contests, taxing travel times and a fragmented three-conference system seen as too complex.
Sanzaar chief Andy Marinos said earlier this year that all options were on the table as the organisation seeks a vision to take Super Rugby to 2030.
No details have been released but one possibility is reportedly a 20-team, four-conference format featuring at least one US side.
There is also a push among some rugby fans to include a composite Pacific islands team featuring players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
A common suggestion from players and coaches this year has been to dump the conference system in favour of a simple round-robin, where teams play each other once.
Super Rugby began as the Super Six in 1986, then become Super 10 when South Africa re-entered the rugby world in 1993.
When the newly formed Sanzar (without Argentina) took control in 1996 it became Super 12, then a decade later it was Super 14, and Super 15 in 2011.
It featured 18 teams and a conference system in 2016 and 2017 before being scaled back to 15 sides this year.