Super Rugby returns after ‘nervous’ wait
Australian rugby union fans are celebrating after Fox Sports and Rugby Australia agreed on a broadcast deal for the upcoming domestic competition.
The NRL had already been running for two weeks when RA confirmed the Super Rugby AU competition would commence on July 3rd.
The Super Rugby competition typically includes teams from South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina and Japan, but such a format is not possible amid the coronavirus epidemic. Therefore, RA has organised a five-team tournament, featuring Australia's four Super Rugby sides and the Western Force, who were infamously axed from the Southern Hemisphere rugby tournament in 2017.
Each side will play each other twice in the 12-week tournament before a grand final on September 19th. The full draw will be released on Thursday.
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After the revised broadcast arrangement was finalised, RA interim chief Rob Clarke said Wednesday's announcement was "the best possible news to rugby fans".
"We are excited to announce the return of professional Rugby in Australia and the kick-off of Vodafone Super Rugby AU on July 3," Clarke said in a statement.
"A huge thanks goes to our broadcast partner of 25 years Fox Sports, who have backed the revised competition format for 2020 and have delivered the best possible news to rugby fans across the country today.
"Our focus is now back where it should be, getting Vodafone Super Rugby AU up and running next month and watching our five Australian teams go head-to-head in week after week of Aussie derby action.
"Fans can also expect to see something different during the new season, as we use the opportunity to innovate and push the boundaries and we look forward to showcasing a new brand of Rugby throughout this 12-week competition."
New Zealand's corresponding domestic tournament commences this weekend and will feature live crowds after the country's coronavirus restrictions were lifted. Saturday's Highlanders vs Chiefs clash at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium is expected to draw 20,000 fans, and will be the first professional rugby union match with spectators since before the lockdown.
Head of Fox Sports Peter Campbell also revealed the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition would be broadcast on Foxtel this winter.
"Rugby starved fans will be able to watch their favourite teams in viewer-friendly timeslots each week. Additionally, Foxtel has also reached an agreement to air the New Zealand Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, which starts this weekend, so rugby fans can settle in to watch more of the sport they love," Campbell said.
"The return of Super Rugby AU continues the return of live sport to our screens following the resumption of the NRL competition and this week the AFL premiership. We are beginning to see more sports announce and release their plans to return to competition and Foxtel is the best place to see it all."
Wallabies legend and Fox Sports commentator Tim Horan is confident this deal is a positive sign for the future of Australian rugby union.
"Rugby is back on television, and how exciting will it be that we can watch a game with a live crowd again," Horan told The Daily Telegraph.
"Players and supporters have been nervous about the future of the game, this is the first step, and the next will be to look at securing Fox Sports as the broadcast rights holder for the next couple of years."
The New South Wales Waratahs will take on the Queensland Reds for the opening fixture of the Super Rugby AU competition on July 3rd at Suncorp Stadium.
Originally published as Super Rugby returns after 'nervous' wait