Australia’s push for the Southern Hemisphere’s Heineken Cup-like competition, World Club Challenge, Wallabies, All Blacks, Rugby Championship

Secret documents from Australia’s super rugby nations reveal a push to include Japanese teams in a new Heineken Cup-style Asia-Pacific championship.

While a World Club Challenge has already been considered – and will be considered every three or four years – the Queensland Reds are known to be pushing support to follow the highly successful Heineken Cup and Challenge Cup models in Europe .

The proposed model sees a finals weekend, with the top-ranked Super Rugby and Japanese League One teams playing the Championship Cup and Challenge Cup in one weekend, before the Championship Cup winner taking on the Northern Hemisphere Heineken Cup winner in a one-on-one neutral place.

All five Australian super rugby franchises have seen the proposed model and there is broad support for the concept.

It is hoped that the new Super Rugby Joint Venture Board, which will have the respective franchises in Australia and New Zealand driving domestic competition rather than the national unions who normally prioritize international rugby above all else, will get the concept underway can bring.

A push by Australia’s Super Rugby nations is hoping Japan can take part in a cross-border competition that replicates the Northern Hemisphere’s Heineken Cup. Photo: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Crucially, no composite teams will be included and all 12 sides of Super Rugby Pacific can qualify for the competition, which involves the best from Japan’s League One competition.

The plan seen by the roar, has been proposed to Australian Super Rugby general managers after COVID-19 forced a competition reset. It also has the backing of some ambitious clubs in Japan.

Under the proposal, the top two finishers from each region (Australia, New Zealand and Japan) in the previous year’s standings would qualify for the Champions Cup.


Marika Koroibete scored for the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights in their League One Finals win over Suntory Sungoliath at National Stadium on May 29, 2022 in Tokyo. But could the Wallabies star play against Australian and New Zealand super rugby teams? (Photo: Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

Those who miss the Champions Cup would qualify for the Challenge Cup, meaning every team in Australia and New Zealand would be in it, as well as Fiji Drua and Moana Pasifika.

Similarly, the second-highest teams from Japan’s League One competition would make up the remaining four teams in the Challenge Cup.

Based on last year’s placement, the Crusaders, Blues, Brumbies, Waratahs, Panasonic Wild Knights and Suntory Sungoliath would make up the Champions Cup and play five pool matches, with the top four playing in the semi-finals before a winner takes the entire final.


Chiefs star Damian McKenzie spent a year with Suntory Sungoliath, which lost to Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan’s League One final. But could they play teams from Australia and New Zealand in an Asia-Pacific Championship? (Photo: Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

While the remaining teams would play across two pools in a Challenge Cup series that includes semi-finals and a final.

The winner of the Champions Cup would take on the winner from the far north, opening up the possibility of Leinster playing the Crusaders or Toulouse taking on the Wild Knights or Brumbies

Importantly, matches are played intermittently during the Super Rugby regular season, much like in the Northern Hemisphere.

According to the proposal, the super rugby season would start in early February and a World Club Challenge final would be played immediately after the super rugby final scheduled for June 24.

One of the challenges for a World Club Challenge has been finding a date that works for all five major domestic competitions in the world, but with France’s top 14 final set for 2023 on June 17, there is hope in Australian rugby circles that there might be some leeway given.

Playing the World Club Challenge in late June would keep the July testing window open.

The benefits for Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific and Japan would be immense.

The competition would not only contribute to Super Rugby, but would also open up Japan’s massive population of 130 million and new broadcasting, sponsorship and revenue opportunities.

The majority of Australia’s super rugby franchises already have deals with Japanese teams, including the Panasonic Wild Knights and Kintetsu Liners, while the Waratahs’ main sponsor, Nomura Research Institute, Ltd, is also Japanese.


The Queensland Reds faced the Crusaders in last year’s Super Rugby quarter-finals. Photo: Joe Allison/Getty Images

The time zone-friendly conditions in Japan would also allow the competition to become every broadcaster’s dream, unlike previous iterations of Super Rugby, which recklessly expanded and were doomed to failure by introducing made-up teams with no historical ties.

Japan have long wanted a seat at the table and are “aggressively” looking for opportunities to play against the Southern Hemisphere’s best.

“We don’t know exactly what the future of Super Rugby will be and what decisions people will make, but one thing is very obvious to us is that we need cross-border competition to improve our quality in the league,” said the chairman of Japan Rugby League One Genichi Tamatsuka told AAP last September.

“We are constantly discussing with the many unions and other foreign leagues and aggressively looking for opportunities.

“We can have some kind of cross-border competition, some of our teams build up to compete in some competitions. So those are the things we want to do, but we haven’t made a final decision yet.”

Rugby Australia CEO Andy Marinos hit back shortly after, saying they wanted to consolidate the current competition.

“We really want to settle into and consolidate this competitive model and structure before we start to rapidly evolve and expand,” he said.

“That was a criticism … where the old super rugby competition constantly felt the need to expand and add, while the fans just wanted consistency in format and performance.”


Michael Leitch reacts after Japan’s defeat by eventual champions South Africa in their 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals match. Photo Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

There is a belief that unless action is taken, Australia will miss out on tapping into one of the world’s largest markets.

Without a third tier competition, Australia could also seize the opportunity to play more development games before their respective domestic competitions begin.

The Force, Reds and Rebels played a number of games in Japan last year, while the Waratahs have a partnership with the Sanix Blues.

By strengthening ties with their Japanese rivals, Super Rugby sources believe it would aid alignment and their likely integration into the rugby championship.

They also believe it could slow player outflow to Europe, as players may choose Japan over the UK or France, leaving the possibility of Wallabies eligibility open. Australia's push for the Southern Hemisphere's Heineken Cup-like competition, World Club Challenge, Wallabies, All Blacks, Rugby Championship

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