Australian and Indo-Pacific rugby chiefs are working to collaborate on a new league initiated by mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest that will allow Super Rugby stars to feature, it was announced Wednesday.
Plans for the competition were flagged by the billionaire founder and chairman of Fortescue Metals this month after Western Force lost an appeal against their controversial axing from Super Rugby.
Forrest said the new league, due to start next year, would initially feature six teams, with the Perth-based Force one of them.
The other five would come from either Singapore, Hong Kong, Samoa, Fiji, Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai, Tonga or Kuala Lumpur.
In a breakthrough, Forrest revealed he was in negotiations with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) to ensure players who compete in his league will also be eligible to play Super Rugby and represent the Wallabies.
This would involve the Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship (IPRC) selecting its schedule to avoid direct clashes with Super Rugby.
The plan is to allow ARU contracted players to sign up to the Indo-Pacific league for four months each year, encouraging Australians playing in Europe, or those considering leaving, to instead join the new competition and still be eligible to play for Australia.
Currently, only overseas-based Australians who have played a minimum 60 Tests can be selected for the Wallabies.
In return, the IPRC would work with the ARU to grow grassroots rugby while attracting sponsorship and broadcaster interest from the booming Asia-Pacific.
It would also help to develop player, coach and referee skills in the region.
“We envision the future of rugby union as a most popular global competition in the fastest-growing consumer market in the world, where over 60 percent of the world’s people live in the same time zone,” Forrest said.
“We are now consulting with sovereign governments, international broadcasters, media organisations and other global businesses, with great interest in the Indo-Pacific, as well as Australia’s leading coaches and players, both here and overseas.”
The West Australian newspaper said the teams would likely be made up of internationals, Pacific Islanders, expat Australian and New Zealanders and some local players in an attempt to keep all sides on a level playing field.
The ARU confirmed it was in talks with Forrest.
“ARU is involved in collaborative discussions with Andrew Forrest and his Minderoo team and we look forward to continuing these discussions over the coming weeks,” said chairman Cameron Clyne.
“We do not wish to comment on the specifics of any proposed new competitions while these discussions are at a preliminary stage.
“ARU remains committed to maintaining a strong rugby presence in Western Australia and will explore all options in this regard.”
SANZAAR, the governing body of Super Rugby, decided to reduce the competition to 15 teams from next year after the unwieldy four-conference 18-team model lost favour with fans and led to a slump in television viewers.
Two South African teams were also axed.