Saturday 24 June 2017

Revealed: The Irish provinces could be playing Super Rugby giants in a blockbuster new tournament

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

Exploratory talks have taken place between northern and southern hemisphere rugby bodies regarding a cross-hemisphere tournament that could feature the Irish provinces, can reveal.

Since the French and English leagues secured themselves mammoth TV deals, the Pro12 have been trying to play catch-up financially, with the majority of marquee imports opting against coming to Ireland, Wales and Scotland due to the increased purchasing power of their European rivals.

The Top 14 and the Aviva Premiership's broadcasting agreements are worth €97m and €57m approximately, with the Pro12 taking home a paltry €13m in comparison.

Martin Anayi, the Managing Director of the Pro12, has been looking at measures to boost the league's profile in order to secure larger TV deals, having previously stated that expanding to America is one of the options being considered.

Given that professional rugby is still in its infancy stateside, that prospect appears remote at present, and has learned that one of the other options being floated is a cross-hemisphere tournament involving the Super Rugby sides and the Pro12 teams.

Although such a competition is only in the early proposal stage, SANZAR - the organisers of Super Rugby - have met with officials from the Pro12 countries to discuss the prospect.

A possible format would be the Pro12 sides competing with the South African and Argentine Super Rugby outfits in a northern hemisphere conference, with the Australia, New Zealand and Japanese sides comprising the southern hemisphere conference.

Any possible tournament is predicated by the agreement of a global rugby calendar, with changes to the season's structure expected to be announced.

There are logistical difficulties, such as long flights, and practical ones, such as the competitiveness of such a league and shaping a viable format, but the prospect of northern hemisphere club teams regularly competing against their southern hemisphere rivals is sure to intrigue supporters.

Despite featuring the world's best players, Super Rugby matches are often played in front of half empty stadiums, which is why a new tournament with increased global exposure would be beneficial to the SANZAR nations as well as the Pro12 countries.

When contacted, the Pro12 declined to comment.

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