Sydney (AFP)

Will Super Rugby ever resume? Participants in the prestigious southern hemisphere franchise championship, endangered by the pandemic, are desperately seeking a solution to save themselves ... without showing great solidarity.

New Zealand and Australia are scrambling for a potential new format that would put Argentina on the sidelines, and South Africa, world champion very weakened by the coronavirus pandemic, is not leading it off. more: the future of competition is more than ever in the dark.

. A dead end: long journeys

One point on which all agree is that the current format of Super Rugby, synonymous with long air travel and significant time differences between New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina, is no longer viable. . Consensus emerged during the health crisis that froze international travel.

This news is particularly unfavorable to the Argentinian franchise of the Jaguares, present in Super Rugby since 2015 and 8,000 km from Johannesburg, 10,000 from Auckland and 12,000 from Melbourne. Alone on the South American continent, the Antechamber of the Pumas clearly appears on the selette.

The four South African franchises are also at risk, with the country most affected on the African continent by the pandemic and New Zealand unwilling to take any risks in this regard.

. The New Zealand solution: a "trans-Tasman" tournament

The New Zealand federation (NZ Rugby), powerful in the field but weak commercially with its small number of inhabitants (4.9 million), proposed its solution: a "trans-Tasman" tournament between the Kiwi and Australian franchises and a new team bringing together the Pacific Islands (Fiji, Tonga, Samoa).

Exit, in this project, the Jaguares and the four South African franchises. A decision "extremely difficult", said in July the boss of New Zealand Rugby, Mark Robinson.

But this solution can only see the light of day with the support of Rugby Australia, the Australian federation ... which is currently opposed to it.

It would like its five franchises - including the Western Force of Perth, weak link ousted from the championship in 2017 - to have their place in this new format, against two to four in the plan proposed by NZ Rugby. Rugby Australia has given New Zealand Rugby an ultimatum in this regard, which has until September 4 to express itself.

. A sketched out: everyone at home?

If it has not yet put an end to Super Rugby in its current format, the coronavirus pandemic has in any case pushed for the cancellation of its 2020 edition.

New Zealand was the first, in mid-June, to organize a championship between its five franchises usually engaged in Super Rugby. The tournament is a success, having sometimes brought together tens of thousands of spectators in the stadiums of this country largely spared by the pandemic.

Everything was going for the best until a slight upsurge in the virus in the country prompted a game to be held behind closed doors last weekend, then another to be canceled.

Australia followed the same path in early July with its four franchises committed to Super Rugby plus the Western Force, reinstated for the occasion.

And Rugby Australia has made a proposal that would tend to the sustainability of this format: a final tournament, called "Super 8", bringing together eight teams from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina to the from domestic championships.

. The threat: what next for South African franchises?

The South Africans, present in Super Rugby since its creation in 1996 under the name Super 12, could be the big losers of a reform of the competition.

"There are several options," said South African Rugby boss Mark Alexander.

One of them would be to join the Pro 14, a championship between Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Italian teams in which two South African teams are already participating.

An option which has the advantage of no jet lag and which has received several support in South Africa, including that of former coach Nick Mallett. "It would probably suit us to go north" and Europe, he said.

© 2020 AFP