It could be back to the future for Super Rugby with the prospect of reintroducing a round-robin format gaining traction and a desire to inject a Pacific Island team now almost irresistible.

The beleaguered competition, which has seen a major drop in attendances and average broadcast figures since it began expanding from 12 teams in 2006, is also likely to be revamped a year earlier than expected.

The current broadcast deal runs through to the end of 2020 but all the Sanzaar nations agree it would make more sense to introduce the changes after next year's World Cup.

In 2020, the season will be restructured globally - with the June international window being pushed back to July - primarily to allow Super Rugby to be played in one continuous bloc.


If the current format of 15 teams split into three conferences is - as is currently planned - taken into 2020, it will mean either having to start it earlier, or have no break between the final and first test of the year.

That's because when the June tests shift to July, the available number of weeks for Super Rugby will reduce from the current 21 to 19 if the competition continues to start in the third week of February, as players are adamant it should to give those involved in end-of-year international tours some kind of off-season.

The long-term intention under the new season format is to create a two week break between the Super Rugby final and first test.

Given the constant changes Super Rugby has endured, no one wants to see a revised format in 2020 and then something different again the following year.

Executives will meet in Singapore this week to try to firm on their plans and begin the inevitable process of compromising and trading benefits as they try to make the competition both commercially viable and compelling to broadcasters.

Essentially there are two options on the table. The first is to retain the status quo with 15 teams in three conferences.

That doesn't necessarily mean the same 15 teams currently involved, as there are questions about Japan's commitment to maintaining the Sunwolves.

If the current format is retained, though, it will have to come with a reduction of games to fit the allocated window.


New Zealand's teams have long said they don't enjoy having to play each other twice a season and hence the intra-conference games could be reduced and instead of playing four of the teams in each of the other conferences, every team would play every team.

The alternative option is to scrap the conferences and run a round-robin format.

How this looks will depend on the total number of teams and Sanzaar is currently considering that it will be 16, 15 or 14. If it is 16, it will most likely be the existing 15 plus a team from the Pacific Islands.

All parties, but particularly New Zealand, are determined to introduce a Pacific team that will predominantly be based in Fiji but may also host games in Samoa, Tonga, Australia and New Zealand.

A 16-team competition won't quite accommodate a true round-robin in that not all teams will play each other - again, unless there is significant compromise on an earlier start date or a later finish.

If there are 15 teams, a round-robin is compromised by the odd number and one side has to start the competition with a bye.


The perfect scenario from a playing format is a 14-team true round-robin. That comes without the need for any compromise on start or finish dates and every team would play each other.

The problem with it, though, is that it would mean ditching at least one of the current teams, if not two, if a Pacific Island side is to be introduced.

The meeting in Singapore is expected to significantly advance progress because if change is to be instigated in 2020 rather than 2021, it will bring forward negotiations with the relevant broadcasters.

All parties also want to maximise the time available for any team or teams to ready themselves for entry. If a Pacific Island side gets the nod, they will have to begin recruiting players early next year to be ready for February 2020.