“I’ve been talking with Rob about the potential for a competition between the two countries and their view is very encouraging about wanting to reach out and have senior player interaction,” Harrison said.
“We are scheduling a call for next week so Hoops, Toomua, Fitzy and other players from our side can talk with senior New Zealand players to start to develop a framework around player desires for involvement. We’d all like to present something that has support from the playing groups and feel this is a good way to start that.”
I think the appetite most certainly is there to engage with Australia and those discussions have already started to happen.
RUPA boss Justin Harrison
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar threw his support behind efforts to make cross-border games work, and said players and Super Rugby staff were eager for the rebuild to begin.
“The uncertainty is a concern for everyone, there’s no doubting that,” McKellar said. “I’ve had conversations with players, all I can say is that professional rugby is going to exist in this country and the Brumbies are going to be a part of it. You can’t say too much more than that. It’s not just players, it’s staff out there as well, coaches, physios, [strength and conditioning] staff, team managers, whoever it might be. Everyone’s in the same situation.
“All that anyone wants is ‘right, we’ve reached the agreement now between Rugby Australia and RUPA, we’re in that survival stage, we’re getting through that, what does the rebuild look like now? Is it a domestic comp, does it have a trans Tasman feel to it, because the Australian and NZ borders are open? Is there a three-Test Bledisloe Cup series?
“Once we’ve got a product and some certainty, then we can have a chat to some key stakeholders like Fox[tel], and once that’s all done, then there’s a little bit more certainty around income and revenue for all involved.”
Rugby Australia is working on a July start date for the resumption of a domestic competition, which would include the Western Force.
New Zealand Rugby, meanwhile, has agreed a similar concept involving its five Super Rugby teams, but acknowledges linking with the Australian conference is the most feasible next step.
As international borders look set to stay closed for months, the Australia-New Zealand route could become a testing ground, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagging the option last week.
McKellar said he was excited about an Australian competition but knew the Brumbies wanted to test themselves “against the best” at some point.
“After seven rounds [this year] we’d started the season well and I was really looking forward to challenging ourselves against the teams considered the best in the world,” he said.
“We had the Hurricanes, the Blues coming up in Auckland … if that’s a possibility you’d love to be involved in it. I think at the moment the main focus is getting the domestic competition off the ground.”
Australian fans and pundits have long called for a move to a trans-Tasman form of Super Rugby to cut out games in South African and Argentinian time zones.
Those calls often prompted scoffs of disdain across the ditch, with New Zealand players and fans reluctant to give up their long association with South Africa, especially when Australia was the weakest of the three major SANZAAR conferences.
But the coronavirus pandemic, which has plunged both national unions into financial crisis, appears to have prompted a rethink.
“I would be surprised if people didn’t see the value in [an Australian-New Zealand connection] in some capacity,” Harrison said.
“Whether it’s a small part of a bigger picture on Super Rugby or the final part, every option at the moment is on the table and this is the most obvious one at the moment, given current travel restrictions and the likely pathway to them being eased.
“I think the appetite most certainly is there to engage with Australia and those discussions have already started to happen and will continue to happen into the future.”
Georgina Robinson is the chief rugby reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.