South African sides could be playing in the Champions Cup as soon as 2022, with SA Rugby now examining all options in the wake of New Zealand's decision to quit Super Rugby next year.
The move would leave South African sides without a competition to play in for 2021, having been part of Super Rugby since the mid-1990s. SA Rugby have long considered the benefits of a move to play in Europe, including a more favourable time difference. A source told Telegraph Sport: "All bets are off now. We are examining all options."
Two South African franchises, the Kings and Cheetahs, are already part of the Guinness Pro14, which could now expand to become the Pro18. Neither the Kings or Cheetahs are currently eligible for the Champions Cup but that would be set to change if all of South Africa's professional sides were involved, with the South African sides needing to play in the 2021-22 Pro18 season in order to qualify for the 2022-23 Champions Cup.
New Zealand Rugby on Friday announced the news of their intention to leave Super Rugby following a three-month report into the national game, with the NZR board eager to create a new professional competition in 2021 off the back of the success of Super Rugby Aotearoa, the inter-provincial competition that has taken place following the cancellation of the 2020 Super Rugby season.
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All of Sanzaar's contracts for Super Rugby run until 2025, but the same South African source indicated that New Zealand Rugby believe those contracts no longer apply in the wake of Covid-19.
The new competition proposed by NZR would be based in Australasia and feature significant Pacific Island representation.
"There is a huge desire to have a Pasifika team involved which we think will be massive for the competition, popular with fans and is a priority for us," explained NZR chief executive Mark Robinson. "As we know, our Pacific nations and Pasifika players in New Zealand have added so much to the rich history of rugby in Oceania and our game here in New Zealand."
Rugby Australia added that they "look forward to working constructively with New Zealand Rugby in the coming weeks".
What appears to be the final Super Rugby season was cancelled back in March, with New Zealand's Crusaders having won the past three titles. The future of the Rugby Championship, the annual competition between Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa, remains unclear.