Andrew Mehrtens believes Australia and New Zealand must separate from South Africa and Argentina and push into Asia if they want to keep their talent close and compete with Europe and the United Kingdom's money.
With the 24th season of Super Rugby to kick off on January 31st, Mehrtens told ESPN it was time the current competition was disbanded and a new tournament created comprising teams from Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
"Going forward if we push into Asia, if we can develop a competition that's in the same timezone I think it's going to be a better product," the former All Blacks fly-half said. "I've said for a long time, we need to drop South Africa -- as much as I love South Africa -- logistically it's a pain in the a---, same with Argentina. Argentina needs to go up their timezone with the USA; South Africa go probably start developing franchises in Dubai or somewhere there, but I think our push is into Asia."
For years Australian and New Zealand rugby talent has been pilfered by the wealthy clubs of Europe and the UK, but now the two nations also face competition from the Japanese Top League. To reduce the player drain Rugby Australia introduced the 'Giteau Law' allowing 60-capped Wallabies to be eligible for selection from overseas, while the All Blacks will only select players from their five Super Rugby franchises.
Mehrtens believes creating a competition across Asia will help curb the problem.
"We're up against big Northern Hemisphere economies in Europe and England, so Australia being strong as a rugby brand is important to New Zealand as well. Australia has a bigger economic footprint into Asia and I'm fully of the belief that's our future getting into that market there and helping develop that.
"If we push into Asia I think at that point New Zealand rugby has got to say 'well OK, we're going to allow our players to play offshore so long as they play in our competition'. If they don't go to France, they don't to England or Ireland or whatever; so long as they stay in our competition and it brings teams in this new market for rugby, eventually they're going to have to face facts and still select them."
Following Japan's success at the recent World Cup, questions have been raised of the decision to cut their only Super Rugby franchise, the Sunwolves. It was revealed in March the Japan Rugby Union would be removing its underlying support for the franchise, leaving SANZAAR to either prop up the Japanese franchise or axe the side from the competition from 2021. They chose the latter.
It's not the first time calls have been made to separate from South Africa, but dumping the four team conference will prove difficult with South African broadcasters contributing much of the revenue shared across Australia, New Zealand and Argentina.