Rugby-SANZAAR still has crucial role to play, says chief exec

WELLINGTON, July 16 (Reuters) - Southern hemisphere rugby's governing body SANZAAR says it is "not being dismantled" despite growing interest in localised Super Rugby competitions as unions grapple with uncertainty over international travel due to COVID-19.

This year's wider Super Rugby competition, which involved teams from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, was halted in mid-March as countries closed borders due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

New Zealand and Australia have each launched competitions for their Super Rugby teams and both countries are reportedly keen to look at setting up a trans-Tasman version rather than reverting to the wider tournament when travel restrictions ease.

New Zealand Rugby are poised to release their preferred competition format for Super Rugby this week.

SANZAAR Chief Executive Andy Marinos said in a statement on Thursday the body still had a key role to play.

"We all recognise the current challenges we face in trying to settle on any potential Super Rugby competition structures moving forward under the pandemic environment," he said.

"Due to the ongoing uncertainty over international travel for 2021 and beyond the member unions are also working on solutions past this year that will excite fans, broadcasters and deliver high-performance outcomes for the unions."

Super Rugby contracted to 15 teams from 18 in 2018 and has axed the Tokyo Sunwolves for 2021 but despite speculation its days may be numbered, Marinos said SANZAAR was critical to success of rugby in the region.

"The SANZAAR joint venture is not being dismantled," he added. "The member unions remain committed to the long-term future as a joint venture.

"There is a clear understanding that the value of the SANZAAR alliance and the pathway of Super Rugby to international rugby remains critical to the long-term success, development and competitiveness of the respective national teams.

"Our record in cross-hemisphere matches and World Cup tournaments are evidence of this."

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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