Justin Marshall backs trans-Tasman competition as conference call is revealed

All Blacks great Justin Marshall says New Zealand needs Australian rugby to be "strong and motivated" as hopes increase that a trans-Tasman competition might come to fruition in 2021.

The Australian on Wednesday reported there would be a telephone hook-up this Friday, with the chief executives of the five New Zealand franchises inviting their Australian Super Rugby colleagues, and potentially the Western Force, to take part in a trans-Tasman discussion.

That news will be music to the ears of Australian rugby stakeholders, particularly after New Zealand's Super Rugby Aotearoa competition kicked off before more than 60,000 spectators over the weekend.

While Marshall said Super Rugby Aotearoa had gotten off to an inspiring start, he said both Australia and New Zealand were of value to each other.

"We need Australian rugby and we need Australian rugby to be motivated and we need it to be strong," Marshall told the Big Sports Breakfast on Wednesday.

"And obviously the All Blacks, probably in this calendar year, the only chance of playing any international games is against Australia.

"And for Australian rugby to grow, they equally need us and to be playing regularly against New Zealand players. So hopefully that phone call [brings everyone together]."

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic seems to have killed off Super Rugby as we know it - the competition was due to revert to a 14-team competition in 2021 - tournament stewards SANZAAR have been steadfast in their belief it will exist in some form in the future.

Talk of a trans-Tasman competition has long been met with a lukewarm response in New Zealand, but it may represent the best solution - with potentially teams from the Pacific Islands and Japan as well - in the current climate moving forward.

Friday's telephone hook-up also comes on the back of comments from New Zealand Rugby's Head of Professional Rugby Chris Lendrum during an interview with ESPN last week.

While they were made before the weekend's blockbuster start, Lendrum's said Super Rugby Aotearoa was unlikely to be sustainable beyond this season despite early signs it was going to be hugely popular with the New Zealand public.

"This is just a little sample of 10 weeks of running a competition for ourselves, but it's exciting that we've been able to move quickly," Lendrum told ESPN. "And sometimes in rugby the criticism has been that it hasn't been able to move quickly. So even that in itself is of interest.

"But we're pretty committed to working with partners outside of New Zealand on the future; I don't see us going internal for much longer. It's great for this year but it's probably not sustainable in the long run."

The two Super Rugby Aotearoa matches were the first professional rugby games to resume since the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world, and they clearly resonated with New Zealanders who had been forced into one of the strictest lockdowns in the world earlier his year.

New Zealand broadcaster Sky Sport also reported record ratings for two matches, so too the Warriors' NRL game against the Cowboys, revealing the three games combined for 750,000 total viewers. Sky's The Breakdown rugby show reported the figures for Super Rugby Aotearoa were 91 percent up on the average Super Rugby audience.

A potential trans-Tasman competition could however be affected by World Rugby's ability to secure a truly global calendar. The game's global stewards on Monday held a teleconference that included the major Tier 1 Unions and their respective geographical alliances, so too representatives from the European and English club competitions.

World Rugby wants to use the opportunity presented by coronavirus to overhaul a schedule that has existed in virtually the same shape since 1996, a move that would see the northern club competitions to shift to a summer window.

It is not one that club bosses in England and France are in favour of.

"The New Zealand Rugby Union have been very proactive in trying to get this global calendar sorted," Marshall said in response to the news that the European clubs were unwilling to budge.

"And the fact that it got basically put to bed a year-and-a-half ago, they were very disappointed in the breakdown of talks. I think that they were also very proactive in making some changes at the top with [Agustin] Pichot one of the people that they wanted to see become the [chairman] because he is very much that minded; he wants to modernise the game and get the global game. But that didn't happen.

"What New Zealand recognises is that we need a bit more variation in our game and opening up the calendar does that. It's quite repetitive at the moment, where if you're an Australian or a New Zealand, you're looking at Super Rugby, some home Tests, Rugby Championship, and then and end-of-year tour and that's been going on since 1996. So people have a lot of choice in sport nowadays and what we're trying to do is show some variation."