Super Rugby is on track to return to its original 12-team format in 2022 and will comprise five teams each from New Zealand and Australia, as well as Pasifika Moana and Fiji.
After months of uncertainty, occasionally bitter exchanges and a declaration by New Zealand Rugby that they were beginning a bid process to a competition to which they had no rights, common sense has finally prevailed and a conceptual plan has been agreed which has buy-in from players and broadcasters.
Having seen tension escalate between the respective national unions of New Zealand and Australia, relations have improved enough in the last month to pave the way for a united Super Rugby competition to begin in 2022.
While the plan has some details yet to be worked through and is subject to wider travel conditions, financial criteria being met – most specifically Rugby Australia securing a new broadcast deal - and some teams proving their sustainability, it is believed NZR and Rugby Australia agree that effectively combining their competitions and bringing in two new Pacific Island teams is the best outcome for Super Rugby.
It is understood this 12-team concept is the one Rugby Australia is pushing as it tries to secure a new broadcast contract – a deal that will have to be good enough to satisfy NZR that jumping back into bed with the Aussies doesn't leave them financially exposed.
Earlier this year, NZR unilaterally declared it was breaking up Super Rugby – opting to set up its own version that it would own and govern. It invited Australia teams to tender expressions of interest to join, but they refused, reportedly citing New Zealand's actions as arrogant and unfounded.
At the time, concerns were high in New Zealand that Australia didn't have a broadcast contract for 2021 and therefore the old system of pooling revenue and splitting it evenly couldn't continue.
NZR didn't believe Australia had the player depth to furnish five teams either and has said publicly many times it would open the door to three, maybe four, teams from across the Tasman.
It has now become apparent that Australia won't agree to any deal that requires them to axe one of their five teams and hence provisional agreement has been reached that if they can land a suitable broadcast deal, they can have five teams in the 2022 competition.
The Herald also understands Moana Pasifika were recently told they are NZR's preferred Pacific Island representative partner which means they and not the other bidder, Kanaloa Hawaii, will work with the national body to try to stand up a team that will enter the competition in 2022.
The Moana Pasifika group will have to prove their financial viability to get the green light to enter and there still needs to be detailed paperwork drawn up to clarify player eligibility and pathways to the respective national teams of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.
Other details about where the Moana Pasifika team will be based and play games also need to be determined but it is provisionally working on the basis it will be split between Auckland, Samoa and Tonga.
Fiji will also now look to satisfy all the various financial criteria to gain entry in 2022 with their national union supporting the creation of a high performance team based in Suva.
When approached for comment by the Herald, NZR said: "We are working positively with Rugby Australia around the details of a trans-Tasman cross border competition for 2021 and are in ongoing discussions around what 2022 looks like."
Plans for 2021 are also now firming up. NZR had previously announced that it would again run Super Rugby Aotearoa with five teams next year, but with a finals series.
It also flagged the prospect of a post-competition, cross-border element against Australian teams, which now seems certain to happen subject to travel regulations.