Rugby: Change needed to sustain Super Rugby into future, says review lead Don Mackinnon

The current version of Super Rugby competition needs to change to ensure its long-term viability, according to Blues chairman Don Mackinnon.

Alongside representatives from the NZ franchises and NZ Rugby, Mackinnon has been tasked with leading 'Arapitu', a wholesale review of New Zealand’s Super Rugby model "to ensure the future success for the clubs and competition on and off the field".

While Mackinnon stops short of calling Super Rugby "broken", he admits that the COVID-19 stoppage is the ideal time to reassess and undertake a more thorough inquiry into how the product can both improve and be future-proofed.

"It's certainly not broken, but I'm not sure it's fit for purpose into the future," Mackinnon has told Newshub.

"I think everyone knows that it needs refining and reshaping, and COVID-19 provides an even more of a reason why we need to look really carefully at what will work going forward.

"We want fan engagement, we want fan passion, we want sponsors and broadcasters to be enthused by it, and certainly, in the case of Super Rugby, a model that attracts private investors into the game."

With all the Kiwi franchises' licences up for renewal this year, Mackinnon says the review is simply standard procedure, but has become part of a more holistic analysis of the competition for the 2021 season and beyond, and how it needs to adapt after coronavirus.

One scenario being carefully considered is the possibility of a domestic-based Super Rugby competition next year, which may be forced by international travel restrictions.

"That could be possibly with or without Australia, depending on the bubble that is being talked about," says Mackinnon.

"A whole lot of issues flow from that, but that's probably the most obvious immediate change we need to consider.

"There is the potential here that, out of the crisis, we can come up with a model that's really exciting for our fans and sponsors, and all other stakeholders."

Mackinnon also confirms that the potential inclusion of a Pacific Islands team will be discussed as part of the review.

"It's definitely on the agenda. NZ Rugby has publicly stated the importance of working more closely with the Pacific Islands, so it's certainly on the list of issues to discuss."

Also being considered as a means of ensuring some level of involvement across the Super Rugby nations is a Heineken Cup-style format, where the top teams from each nation compete in a mini-tournament.

"That way we still see the best of the best," he adds. "It's just one of so many options we'll be looking at over the course of the next couple of months."

The initial aim is to establish a short-to-medium-term solution for the competition to get back on its feet, but Mckinnon says the review will consider making any change permanent.

Either way, change, to whatever extent, seems inevitable.

"Change is very much being forced upon us and we need to grasp it," he says.

"I'm actually excited about creating something that really works from the outset and if we can, that will be the ideal."