Super Rugby will rebuild itself along the lines of the NFL from 2016, creating a two division-four conference model that will see local derbies decrease and three new sides enter the fray.
After more than a year of debate and negotiation, agreement has been reached by the Sanzar partners that Super 15 will become Super 18. The new tournament, which will be launched in early 2016, had player welfare as its No 1 goal - which is why the long-haul travel burden and number of local derbies have been decreased.
The two divisions will be split with 10 teams - five from New Zealand in one conference and five from Australia in the other - in the Eastern Division and eight teams in the Western. The Western Division will incorporate the Southern Kings, one new team from Argentina and one other new side which will most likely be based in Africa or possibly Southern Europe. The teams will be split into two conferences of four teams each.
A major announcement will be made early next week, but Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver spoke out yesterday.
"It's likely to be a four-conference model and this will be finalised in the next couple of weeks. "
It is believed that in the new tournament, New Zealand sides will be asked to play each team in their own conference once and all five teams in the Australian conference. They will then play an additional two games within their own conference and then against each team in one of the Western Conferences.
They will play against the other African conference the next year. In total each team will play 15 games.
The Western Division teams will play everyone in their division once, then will play again every team in their conference. They will then play against either every team in the Australian conference or every team in the New Zealand conference - alternating the following year.
The new competition will be one week shorter than the current version and is therefore expected to start one week later. If the June test window can be shifted to July then it will likely start in early March and run - without a break - to late July.
Reports have suggested that there is a desire to include a new team from Asia in the Western Conference but it is thought highly unlikely - with player welfare such a priority - that the African players would be keen to have to travel there for a one-off game.
The possibility of setting up the 18th franchise in southern Spain is being explored but it is thought that a seventh African side is the most likely outcome.
The playoff structure is still being worked out.
Super Rugby structure example:
New Zealand Conference
South African Conference A
Argentina based team
South African Conference B
Team to be announced