It was a monetary olive branch to cap a few days of at times spiteful back and forth between the nations as Australia resisted what it believed to be New Zealand attempts to shoehorn it into a bit-part role in Super Rugby’s future.
Sources told the Herald New Zealand Rugby planned to open negotiations with a proposal for just two Australian sides, while leaks from NZR’s Aratipu review revealed the Kiwis’ preferred model would be an eight-team format, with either two or three Australian teams.
Both options would be shot down by Rugby Australia which, having welcomed the Andrew Forrest-owned Western Force back into the fold, would face a diabolical decision on which two or three of its five professional sides to axe.
This runs the risk of turning into a squabble where everyone begins to forget what they were fighting for in the beginning.
Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan
RA officials have reached out to their South African and Argentinian counterparts to broach an ‘open borders’ policy, which could boost the depth of Australian sides and serious international x-factor to the competition.
“I absolutely acknowledge that we don’t have the Super Rugby depth that New Zealand has at the moment but why wouldn’t we open our teams up to some top-flight players from South Africa, Argentina and even the northern hemisphere to help them out,” McLennan said.
“If you look at the strength of the AFL and NRL they’re both entirely local, so if we have to go it alone we will, but that’s not my preferred option.”
The NZR board will discuss the review at a meeting on Thursday, after which meaningful discussions between the two national unions might be expected to get under way.
Hansen’s comments laid bare the attitudes Australian officials will contend with during negotiations. He invoked New Zealand disappointment over losing co-hosting rights to the 2003 World Cup, a turn events that soured trans-Tasman relations for years to come.
“Without being controversial, we have been looking after the Aussies for years,” the former Test coach said. “And every time we have required something from them, particularly at a high level, sometimes they have gone missing.
“Do we owe them something? No. But because we are the nation we are, and we care about the game more than just ourselves, we bend and buckle a bit. I think New Zealand Rugby are in the mood for having strong discussions … because they only get one shot at it.”
McLennan moved to ease tensions on Sunday, telling the Herald there was a bigger picture to keep in mind.
“This runs the risk of turning into a squabble where everyone begins to forget what they were fighting for in the beginning,” he said.
“The bigger picture over time is leveraging an ANZAC bloc with the best professional competition in the world. We also represent two of the most profitable inbound tours to the northern hemisphere based on our collective history. And we’ve collectively won five World Cups and we’ve been in the final another three times. So I’m backing Australia to get rugby right over time.”
Georgina Robinson is the chief rugby reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.