Super Rugby is reunited and will enter a new era next year with the formation of a 12-team competition including teams representing Australia, New Zealand and a host of Pacific island nations, including Fiji.
Twelve sides will battle for the crown of Super Rugby Pacific champions from next February after two years Covid-enforced localised competitions in Australia and New Zealand.
Conferences have been dumped and one ladder will be used with Australia represented by the Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs, Melbourne Rebels, Brumbies and Western Force.
New Zealand will also supply five teams – the Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes.
Rounding out the competition will be Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika with eight teams set to feature in a new-look finals series.
Fijian Drua previously played in Australia’s National Rugby Championships, while Moana Pasifika is a South Auckland-based team made up of players who identify with Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands.
“This is a game changer for rugby in the Pacific and indeed the rest of the rugby world,” Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos said.
“We have seen the brilliant rugby that Fiji play in all formats of the game and their inclusion will make this new competition one of the toughest in the world.”
The Australian teams all welcomed the new competition despite the staggering gulf between them and the Kiwi sides becoming apparent earlier this year.
In five rounds of competition between teams from the two countries, the Australian sides won only two games.
That gap was also on show in recent Bledisloe Cup thrashing the Wallabies copped from the All Blacks.
But wew Waratahs coach, Darren Coleman said it was important for Australian rugby to have more regular tests against the Kiwi teams.
“I know as a playing group and a coaching group we are excited the other teams are in so we can test ourselves ….and not get too complacent where we sit in the pecking order,” he said.
“I’d prefer the Kiwis involved. Yeah, it makes it harder, but if you are playing professional rugby you want to test ourselves more often.
“I don’t want a soft entry, I want to get in to it and see where we land.”
The competition kicks off on February 18, with each team to play 14 regular season matches. Teams will play eight other sides once and three teams twice.
A top-eight playoff series will take place over three weeks, with quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final to determine the champions.
Waratahs CEO Paul Doorn said it was good to have a set-in-stone competition structure after two years of changes.
“We know when we start, when we are going to finish and who we are playing against. It’s really exciting,” he said.
“The feedback from players today was, now we know what it is, let’s lock and load and get ready.”
The new competition will mean the end of the Super Rugby AU and the Super Rugby Aotearoa competitions.