Super Rugby is a professional men's rugby union football competition in the Southern Hemisphere and Japan. Building on various Southern Hemisphere competitions dating back to the South Pacific Championship in 1986, with teams from a number of southern nations, Super Rugby started as the Super 12 in 1996 season with 12 teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The name was changed to Super 14 with the addition of two teams for the 2006 season, and with expansion to 15 teams in the three countries for the 2011 season, the competition was rebranded as Super Rugby (with no number). By 2006, matches were being broadcast in 41 countries. In 2016 two new teams, the Jaguares from Argentina and Sunwolves from Japan, joined the competition, playing in the newly separated African groups. In 2018, the competition underwent yet another change in format, this time however dropping two teams (Cheetahs and Kings) from the South African conference, and one from the Australian conference (Western Force). This left the competition with 15 teams.
SANZAAR is the body that administers Super Rugby, and has the Australian, New Zealand, South African and Argentine rugby unions as its sole members. SANZAAR also runs the Rugby Championship tournament that is contested by Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa following the conclusion of the Super Rugby tournament; the Tri-Nations preceded the Rugby Championship before Argentina joined the competition. The organisation was formed in 1995 to establish and run the Super 12, and Tri-Nations Tournament.
Prior to 2011, Super Rugby was a round-robin competition where each team played with every other team once; a team had six or seven home games, and six or seven away games each. The winner received four competition points; if the game was a draw two points were awarded to each team. The Rugby union bonus points system was also used, where any team scoring four or more tries, and/or losing by seven points or less, receives an extra competition point. In 2016, the try bonus changed. A team now has to score three more tries than their opponents. The top four teams at the end of the round-robin phase then played semi-finals – the first placed team hosting the fourth placed team, and the second placed team hosting the third placed team. The two winners then played the final at the home ground of the top surviving seed. There were 91 regular season games in total. Games were held over 14 weekends with each team receiving one bye.
From 2011 – 2015 the format changed, with each country forming its own conference. Each team within a conference played each of the other teams in its conference twice, once at home and once away. Each team then played four out of the five teams from each of the other conferences once. Competition points were awarded on a similar basis as before. The format of the finals also changed; it involved six teams: the top team in each of the three conferences plus the three next teams with the highest total number of points, regardless of conference. The four lower ranking teams were paired in two sudden death games; the winners of those two games each played one of the two top ranked teams (which received a bye at the start of the finals). Those winners played for the championship.
For the 2016 and 2017 seasons the format changed again, with three more teams joining, one each from Argentina, Japan and South Africa. There were four conferences, with Africa getting two conferences. The finals had eight teams with each conference winner getting a home quarter final. They were joined by four wild card teams, three from the Australasian group and one from the South African group.
From 2018 season the format will change again, with two South African teams and an Australian team being dropped. There will be three conferences, one of the five New Zealand teams, a South African one to include Argentina's team and an Australasian one including Japan's team.
Before 1996, a number of transnational competitions involving regional and provincial rugby union teams had taken shape in the southern hemisphere. The earliest of these was the South Pacific Championship, which was launched in 1986 and continued until 1990.
After the demise of the South Pacific Championship, with no tournament played in 1991, the competition was relaunched as the Super 6 in 1992. The original Super 6 competition consisted of three provincial teams from New Zealand; Auckland, Canterbury, Wellington, along with two Australian state teams; Queensland and New South Wales, and also Fiji.
In 1993, the Super Six competition was revamped and expanded into the Super 10 tournament. With South Africa being readmitted into international sport following the dismantling of apartheid, there was an opportunity to launch an expanded competition which would also feature South Africa's top provincial teams. The inaugural competition featured the following teams: Waikato, Auckland, Otago and North Harbour (New Zealand); Natal, Transvaal and Northern Transvaal (South Africa); Queensland and New South Wales (Australia) and Western Samoa (Pacific Tri-Nations winner). The Super 10 was won by Transvaal (South Africa) in 1993, and by Queensland (Australia) in 1994 and 1995.
The official declaration of professionalism in rugby union in August 1995 led to a restructuring of the Super 10 competition. Following the success of the 1995 World Cup Australia, New Zealand and South Africa rugby boards formed SANZAR (South African, New Zealand and Australian Rugby) to administer an annual 12-team provincial/franchise based competition pitting regional teams from the three nations against each other. In addition it was decided to hold an annual Tri-Nations Test Series between the three countries. A significant reason for the development of the Super 12 was the threat to rugby union from rival football code rugby league: part of the business model for the Foxtel pay TV network in Australia was to attract subscribers by offering an exclusive product (such as rugby union) which could not be seen on free-to-air broadcast television. By setting up the Super 12, the Unions had a product that was in demand from viewers, enabling them to sell a 10-year contract for exclusive television rights to News Corp for US$555 million, giving them both coverage and financial support to kickstart the new competition.
With significant sponsorship, and rugby turning a professional sport in 1995, the Super 12 competition successfully kicked off in 1996 with five New Zealand franchises, four South African provinces and three domestic Australian teams competing. New Zealand's dominance of the competition began in the first year when the Auckland Blues won the inaugural competition defeating South African side the Sharks 45 – 21 in a home final. The Blues would repeat the success of 1996 beating Australian side the ACT Brumbies 23 – 7 in the 1997 final.
The Blues then reached their third successive final in 1998 but went down to fellow countrymen the Canterbury Crusaders 13 – 20. This would mark the beginning of the Crusaders' three-year dominance as they went on to win the 1999 and 2000 finals over the Otago Highlanders and ACT Brumbies respectively. The 2001 season was the first in which no New Zealand franchise reached the final, being contested between the ACT Brumbies and Sharks with the Brumbies convincing winners, with a 36 – 6 scoreline.
The Crusaders won their 4th final in 2002 winning all 11 matches and missed out on their 5th in 2003 with a four-point loss to fellow countrymen the Blues. In 2004 the Brumbies took revenge on their 2000 final loss to the Crusaders defeating them 47 – 38 in front of a home crowd. The Crusaders would bounce back to win the 2005 final 35 – 25 against the Australian side the New South Wales Waratahs who reached their first ever final. This was the last year of the 12 team format.
From the early 2000s Australia had started to push for the inclusion of a fourth Australian team, and South Africa for another team from its country. There was also speculation of including a team from the South Pacific Island nations, such as Fiji; or a combined Pacific Islanders team from Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga. Argentina was also pushing for inclusion in the Super 12. In the early 2000s the provincial names from the New Zealand franchises were dropped, so, for example, the Canterbury Crusaders became The Crusaders. Also South Africa followed the New Zealand franchise model, where previously South African participation was decided by the previous year's Currie Cup placings.
SANZAR announced in December 2004 that a new five-year television deal had been signed that would cover 2006 to 2010, with News Corporation winning the rights for the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and SuperSport winning rights for South Africa. The contract was worth USD 323 million over five years, a 16% annual increase compared to the previous deal. It covers international fixtures as well as the Super 14. SANZAR remained free to negotiate separate deals for other markets, such as France, Japan and the Americas.
The TriNations is the "cash cow" for the SANZAR partners as it provides nearly 60 per cent of the money from News Ltd.[needs update] The Super 14 made up about 30 per cent of the deal.
Under the new deal, Australia and South Africa each got one extra team in the competition, and a third round of fixtures was added to the Tri Nations Series. The new Australian team in the competition was based in Perth and was named the Western Force.
The addition of the new South African team led to considerable controversy, including government involvement. Finally, the five teams for 2006 were confirmed to be the country's existing four teams plus the Cheetahs, which draws its players from the Free State and Northern Cape Provinces. For the 2007 season, the Southern Spears, based in Port Elizabeth, were originally intended to replace the lowest-finishing South African team from the 2006 competition. However, the existing South African Super 14 franchises opposed the plan, which was pushed through by controversial president of the South African Rugby Union, Brian van Rooyen. After van Rooyen was ousted as president, SARU announced that the Spears would not enter the competition. SARU investigated the viability of the Spears after discovering serious financial irregularities. A High Court of South Africa ruling stated that the Spears had a valid contract to compete in the Super 14 and Currie Cup. However, because of the organisation's financial and administrative troubles, in November 2006 a settlement was reached. The Spears abandoned their legal case, and will continue to exist, but not compete in the Super 14.
SANZAR rejected a proposal to split the Super 14 into two seven-team divisions, and decided to keep the competition in its traditional single-table format. Argentina and the Pacific Islands remained shut out of the competition.
The two new teams didn't perform all that well, the South African franchise the Cheetahs did the better of the two teams finishing 10th on the ladder notching up 5 season wins. The Australian franchise the Western Force only managed one victory and ended winning the wooden spoon as last placed 14th. The highlight for the Force was a 23-all draw against eventual champions the Crusaders, who defeated first-time finalists the Hurricanes 19–12.
During the 2007 season, 22 All Blacks missed the competition's first seven rounds as part of an All Black "conditioning programme" that was a part of the All Blacks' 2007 Rugby World Cup preparations, and every New Zealand franchise was without players for the first seven rounds. At the end of the regular season, for the first time since 1998, no Australian franchise had made the semi-finals. Although the Brumbies were strong and the Western Force experienced vast improvement, it was a poor season for the Queensland Reds and Waratahs who finished last and second last respectively. Also, the competition featured the first all-South African final as the Sharks and Bulls, who finished 1–2 on the season ladder, both won their respective semi-finals. The final, held in Durban, saw the visiting Bulls win 20–19.
SANZAR unveiled in 2009 its model for an expanded season that would begin in 2011. This model was based around the original ARU proposal for three national conferences: each side were to have played the other four teams from their own country twice and the other ten teams once each; the season as to end with a six team finals series.
There were four major compromises, however, designed to accommodate certain wishes of each country, that somewhat complicated the model:
SANZAR announced in 2009 the addition of a fifth Australian team that would play in the expanded "Super Rugby" competition in 2011. The licence was awarded to Victoria, Australia, and the team's name announced as the Melbourne Rebels. The Australian start-up franchise was given the nod ahead of South Africa's Southern Kings. Brian Waldron, former CEO of the NRL club the Melbourne Storm, was confirmed as the new CEO of the Rebels on 11 January 2010, but resigned on 23 April after a salary cap breach was uncovered at the Storm.
In February 2012, SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters announced that the organisation was considering adding franchises in Argentina, Japan and the United States in 2016, the first year of SANZAR's next television contract. This was also the year that rugby sevens entered the Olympics, which contributed towards increased interest in the sport in many countries, including Japan and the US.
Australian sports broadcasting analyst Colin Smith noted that the addition of Japanese and American teams could result in a TV deal worth more than A$1 billion beyond 2020. Specifically, he stated, "You could have a deal comparable to the other major sports in Australia. Rugby is a college (university) sport in the US, if soccer can create its own league there and sell teams for $40 million, imagine what you could do in 10–12 years with rugby in that market." By comparison, the largest TV deal in Australian sport, that of the Australian Football League (Australian rules), is worth A$1.26 billion from 2012 to 2016. Even that figure was dwarfed by the TV contracts of the NFL, for which contracts at the time were worth more than US$4 billion annually.
Peters added that the conference-based structure was ideal for expanding the competition to new territories, either by adding new conferences or by adding teams to the current conferences. He also discussed the possibility that offshore Super Rugby teams could be a home for surplus players from the SANZAR countries, keeping them in the SANZAR fold and away from European clubs.
Prior to Super Rugby's broadcast contracts expiring after the 2015 season, SANZAR considered several alternatives for the competition's future organisation: 
The last proposal, made by the SARU, was reportedly driven by internal union politics. With only five guaranteed places in Super Rugby but six active franchises, the bottom team in the South African Conference faced a promotion/relegation playoff with the sixth franchise for a place in the next season's competition. Australia and New Zealand warmed to the SARU proposal, as a trans-Tasman competition would potentially allow for more regional derbies, fewer time zone complications and less player travel. However, NZRU chief executive Steve Tew indicated that a competition that did not include South African teams was a commercial non-starter because of large broadcast revenues from that country and because the NZRU considered Super Rugby matches in South Africa to be critical for national team development.
SANZAR announced on 4 September 2013 that South Africa would be granted a sixth franchise starting in the 2016 season, negating the need for relegation play-offs involving the sixth South African franchise. SANZAR then announced on 20 November 2014 that Japan and Argentina would each be allocated a team from the 2016 season onwards.
In April 2017, SANZAAR confirmed the competition would reduce to 15 teams in 2018 with two South African and one Australian team to have their franchises withdrawn. South Africa would field only the following 4 teams: the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers, with the Cheetahs and Kings losing their spots. Both the Cheetahs and Kings were offered places to join the Pro 12, which became the Pro14 from the 2017/2018 season onwards. Then on 11 August 2017, Australia announced that the Western Force have lost their licence.
|New Zealand||South Africa|
|Australia||Brumbies||Canberra, Australian Capital Territory||Canberra Stadium||25,011||1996 (Super 12)|
|Reds||Brisbane, Queensland||Suncorp Stadium||52,500||1996 (Super 12)|
|Rebels||Melbourne, Victoria||AAMI Park||30,050||2011|
|Sunwolves||Tokyo||Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium||27,188||2016|
|Waratahs||Sydney, New South Wales||Allianz Stadium||45,500||1996 (Super 12)|
|New Zealand||Blues||Auckland, Auckland Region||Eden Park||50,000||1996 (Super 12)|
|Chiefs||Hamilton, Waikato||FMG Stadium Waikato||25,800||1996 (Super 12)|
|Crusaders||Christchurch, Canterbury||AMI Stadium||18,600||1996 (Super 12)|
|Highlanders||Dunedin, Otago||Forsyth Barr Stadium||30,748||1996 (Super 12)|
|Hurricanes||Wellington, Wellington Region||Westpac Stadium||34,500||1996 (Super 12)|
|South Africa||Bulls||Pretoria, Gauteng||Loftus Versfeld||51,762||1996 (Super 12)|
|Jaguares||Buenos Aires||Estadio José Amalfitani||49,540||2016|
|Lions||Johannesburg, Gauteng||Emirates Airline Park||62,567||1996 (Super 12)|
|Sharks||Durban, KwaZulu-Natal||Kings Park||52,000||1996 (Super 12)|
|Stormers||Cape Town, Western Cape||Newlands Stadium||51,900||1996 (Super 12)|
|Year||No. of Teams||Final||Losing semi-finalists|
|Winners||Score||Runners-up||1st losing semi-finalists||2nd losing semi-finalists|
In the sortable table below, teams are ordered first by number of appearances, then by number of wins, and finally by season of first appearance. In the "Season(s)" column, bold years indicate winning seasons, and italic years indicate games not yet completed.
|12||Crusaders||8||4||.666||1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2017|
|6||Brumbies||2||4||.333||1997, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2013|
|4||Blues||3||1||.750||1996, 1997, 1998, 2003|
|4||Sharks||0||4||.000||1996, 2001, 2007, 2012|
|3||Bulls||3||0||1.000||2007, 2009, 2010|
|3||Chiefs||2||1||.667||2009, 2012, 2013|
|3||Waratahs||1||2||.333||2005, 2008, 2014|
|3||Hurricanes||1||2||.333||2006, 2015, 2016|
Since 2011 Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have played in 3 separate conferences. With teams playing each team in their own conference twice (home and away) and in the other conferences playing four of the five teams. The winner of each conference is awarded a home final and their region specific conference trophy.
|Year||Australia||New Zealand||South Africa|
Since 2016, teams have played in four separate conferences within two groups. The New Zealand and Australian conferences play in the Australasian Group, while two Africa conferences play in the African Group. The winners of each conference qualify for hosting the quarter finals, the third placed team in the African Group gets a wild card spot, and the third, fourth, and fifth placed teams in the Australasian Group also get a wild card spot.
|Year||Australia||New Zealand||Africa 1||Africa 2|
The five Australian teams playing in the competition are subjected to a $5 million salary cap for a squad of 30 full-time players per Australian team. The Australian Rugby Union decided in 2011 to introduce the salary cap because of financial pressures. Originally starting in 2012 as a cap of A$4.1 million, it was later was raised to $4.5 million for the 2013 and 2014 seasons to take pressure off the teams' ability to recruit and retain players. The salary cap is a key component of the negotiation between the ARU and the Rugby Union Players Association over the collective bargaining agreement. The fact that the Australian teams in Super Rugby face a salary cap has been attributed as a factor that makes it more difficult for Australian teams to win the title.
The cap regulations have some small concessions:
New Zealand teams impose a cap on individual player salaries, but are not subjected to a team cap. South Africa imposes no cap of any sort.
There have been several iterations of the trophy awarded to the winner of the Super Rugby competitions.
The Super 14 trophy, unveiled in New Zealand ahead of the 2006 season, was made of sterling silver with the competition logo on a globe sitting atop of a four-sided twisted spiral. Jens Hansen Gold and Silversmith in Nelson, New Zealand hand-made the trophy which took over two months to complete.
On 30 June 2011, SANZAR unveiled the new trophy that will be presented to the winners of the Super Rugby final from 2011 and beyond, was crafted from solid stainless steel and polished to a mirror finish. It has a height of 65 cm and a mass of 18 kilograms. The trophy was designed by Blue Sky Design of Sydney. The trophy was manufactured by Box and Dice Pty Ltd also based in Sydney.
SANZAR CEO Greg Peters said "The shape of the trophy is centred around three curved legs, each representing the Conferences involved in the Super Rugby competition . . . The champions trophy is the 'big one', and will become the ultimate symbol of Super Rugby supremacy in the years to come."
The colour on each leg corresponds to the Conferences with gold for Australia, black for New Zealand, and green for South Africa.
There are several other trophies contested during the competition; the Charles Anderson VC Memorial Cup between the Brumbies and Stormers, the Bob Templeton Cup between the Reds and Waratahs, the Ganbattle Trophy between Sunwolves and Rebels and the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy between the Blues and Highlanders. Every year the Super Rugby player of the year is awarded.
During the last season of the Super 12, Coast Design of Sydney was commissioned to design a new logo for the Super 14. The Super 14 logo broke away from the traditional shield formats, common to many sporting codes, and used Roman numerals (XIV), which is unique for sport in the region. The game's dynamism and speed are suggested by the orbiting football which has three distinct stitches, a subtle reference to the three countries of the tournament.
The Super Rugby logo dispenses with numbers, featuring a large blue "S" with a white rugby ball in the centre and "SupeRugbY" below the "S". The three stitches of the previous ball are retained.
Before the expansion to the Super 14, the Super 12 used a logo in the shape of a shield, which had the sponsors name at the top, and then the words "Rugby" and "Super 12". The lower half of the logo used three different coloured stripes, green, black and gold, the respective colours of the national teams of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
The naming rights for the competition are different in the four countries:
Each respective country competing in Super Rugby has a number of their own domestic leagues, which feed into Super Rugby teams.
South Africa actually used their Currie Cup teams as opposed to creating new teams during the earlier years of the Super 12. However, the Currie Cup is now the third tier of rugby in South Africa, below Test and Super Rugby; it is played after the Super Rugby season, and all unions are aligned to a Super Rugby team, though it is mainly the big six, Blue Bulls, Golden Lions, Sharks, Free State Cheetahs, Western Province and Eastern Province Elephants which contribute the most to the Super Rugby sides.
In New Zealand, the Mitre 10 Cup is the most prominent domestic competition below the Super Rugby, in which all the respective Unions are also aligned with Super Rugby sides.
Argentina, like South Africa and New Zealand, has a national championship where several provincial unions compete, the Campeonato Argentino. Another national championship, but for clubs, is Nacional de Clubes.
Japan has a national club competition called Top League.
In Australia, pay TV station Fox Sports shows every match live and beginning in 2016, free-to-air station Network Ten started showing a full match replay every Sunday morning of the 'Match of the Round' featuring at least one Australian team. Network Ten will also show full match replays of all finals matches featuring Australian teams.
Super Rugby is broadcast on Supersport in South Africa and is simulcast terrestrially on M-Net. Sky Sport is the official broadcaster in New Zealand. Super Rugby is now broadcast in over 40 countries — in the UK on Sky Sports; in Spain it is broadcast by Digital+, and in the United States by ESPN3, which has confirmed all matches will be broadcast live or on demand. In Canada, TSN broadcasts all matches only on TSN GO, their online SD streaming platform.
|Fox Sports Australia||Australia|
|Sky Sport||New Zealand|
|ESPN Latin America||South America|
|ESPN 3||United States|
|Setanta Sports Asia||Asia Pacific|
United Arab Emirates
|Sky Italia|| Italy
Canton of Ticino
|Sky UK|| United Kingdom
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Super Rugby.|