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Super Rugby History - Tournament began as Super 12 in 1996

  • Super Rugby started in 1996 and was known as Super 12
  • The 2006 season saw the start of the Super 14 competition
  • Super Rugby featured 15 teams from 2011 to 2015
  • 18 team competed in 2016 & 2017 with the addition of the Jaguares and Sunwolves
  • The competition was reduced to 15 teams in 2018
  • The 2020 season was cancelled due to the corona virus pandemic
1996 Blues super rugby
The Blues took on the Hurricanes during their inagural Super 12 match in 1996 (Getty Images)
John Eastwood 19 Feb 2021
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The first rugby union club competition involving Southern Hemisphere rugby union clubs was the South Pacific Championship which started in 1986 and continued until 1990. The South Pacific Championship featured six teams - three from New Zealand (Auckland, Canterbury & Wellington), two from Australia (Queensland & New South Wales) and the Fiji national team.

No tournament was played in 1991 with another competition called Super 6 launched in 1992. Super 6 lasted just one season with Queensland winning the title. In 1993 the Super 6 competition was expanded to the Super 10 with teams from South Africa allowed to participate after the end of apartheid.

The inaugural Super 10 competition featured four teams from New Zealand (Waikato, Auckland, Otago & North Harbour), three from South Africa (Natal, Transvaal & Northern Transvaal), two from Australia (Queensland & New South Wales) and Pacific Tri-Nations winners Western Samoa. The Super 10 competition was won by Transvaal in 1993 and Queensland in 1994 and 1995.

Rugby union became a professional sport in 1995 with the Super 10 competition being restructured. The successful 1995 World Cup provided the impetus for the Australia, New Zealand and South Africa rugby boards to form SANZAR.

SANZAR (South African, New Zealand and Australian Rugby) was the administration board to organise a new competition featuring 12 clubs or franchises from the three nations. One benefit of the formation of SANZAR was the implementation of an annual Tri-Nations Test Series between South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

The formation of Super 12 allowed rugby union to compete with rugby league from a financial perspective. The Foxtel pay TV network in Australia was interested in exclusive rights to broadcast the competition, with SANZAR selling a 10-year contract for exclusive television rights to News Corp for US $555 million.

The new Super 12 competition successfully began in 1996 with five New Zealand franchises (Auckland Blues, Waikato Chiefs, Otago Highlanders, Wellington Hurricanes, Canterbury Crusaders), four South African provinces (Natal Sharks, Northern Transvaal, Transvaal, Western Province) and three domestic Australian teams (Queensland Reds, ACT Brumbies, NSW Waratahs).

New Zealand's dominance began immediately with the Auckland Blues winning the competition after beating Natal Sharks 45- 21 in the final. The Blues went back to back after defeating ACT Brumbies 23-7 in the 1997 final.

The Blues reached their third successive final in 1998 but were defeated by fellow New Zealand franchise Canterbury Crusaders 20-13. The Crusaders went on to win in 1999 and 2000 finals with the 2001 season being the first won by a club outside New Zealand franchise, the Brumbies defeating and Sharks 36-6 in the 2001 final.

The Crusaders won their 4th final in 2002, the Blues won in 2003 and the Brumbies were victorious again in 2004 with 47-38 win against the Crusaders in front of a home crowd in Canberra. The Crusaders bounced back to win the 2005 final 35-25 against the New South Wales Waratahs which was the last competition to feature a 12 team format.

In the early 2000s Australia and South Africa wanted another team from their countries in the competition. There was talk of a team from the South Pacific Island nations being included and Argentina wanted to be included in Super 12.

In 2004 SANZAR negotiated a five-year tv deal from 2006 to 2010 worth US$323 million. News Corp won the rights for the UK, Australia and New Zealand and SuperSport for South Africa.

Australia and South Africa got their wish of an extra team in the competition. The new Australian team was based in Perth and named the Western Force, South Africa’s new team was called the Cheetahs and drew players from the Free State and Northern Cape Provinces.

The 2006 season saw the start of the Super 14 competition, SANZAR keeping the competition in a single-table format. The Western Force and Cheetahs didn't perform well, the Force only winning one game and finishing with the wooden spoon in last place.

Only two teams won the tournament during the Super 14 era. The Crusaders won in 2006 and 2008, the Bulls winning in 2007, 2009, and 2010.

SANZAR decided to expand the competition once again in 2011. The idea was to have three national conferences (South Africa, New Zealand & Australia) with each side playing the other four teams from their own country twice, the other ten teams once with the finals series involving six teams.

The additional team came from Victoria, Australia, and was named the Melbourne Rebels. The new competitions was rebranded as Super Rugby, a competition featuring 15 teams and running from 2011 to 2015.

In 2012 SANZAR  considered adding teams from Argentina, Japan and the United States in 2016 to capitalise on the interest generated by the rugby sevens entering the Olympics.

On 4 September 2013 SANZAR announced that a sixth franchise from South Africa would enter the competition and on 20 November 2014 it was announced that teams from Japan and Argentina would be a part of Super Rugby starting in the 2016 season. The two new teams were called the Jaguares (Argentina) and Sunwolves (Japan).

The competition was reduced to 15 teams in 2018 with two South African and one Australian teams eliminated. Four teams from South Africa remained (Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers) with the Cheetahs and Kings missing out. The Western Force were the team from Australia that lost their licence.

In March 2019 SANZAAR confirmed that 2020 will be the Sunwolves' last in Super Rugby.

The 2020 Super Rugby season was cancelled due to the corona virus pandemic. Regional tournaments were played to replace the Super Rugby fixtures including Super Rugby Aotearoa in New Zealand, Super Rugby AU in Australia and Super Rugby Unlocked in South Africa.

Super Rugby History FAQ

When did Super Rugby start?

Super Rugby started in 1996 and was known as Super 12 with five New Zealand franchises, four South African provinces and three Australian teams.


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