New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew has revealed there is interest from the United States, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan in joining an expanded Super Rugby competition from 2016.
The new-look format, which Sanzar will take to the broadcasters within the next two weeks, will have 18 teams and be split across four conferences.
The current five-team conferences in Australia and New Zealand will remain, while South Africa will increase its current number of teams from five to six and they will be joined by a team from Argentina as well as one yet to be decided. Those eight teams will be split into two four-team conferences.
Tew said there will be a formal bid process, similar to the one the Melbourne Rebels had to undergo when the competition expanded to 15 teams in 2011.
“We are going to the market and we think that’s a great opportunity for rugby and a great opportunity for our competition to explore the possibilities,” he said.
“We have a very open mind but we are in discussions with two or three interested parties all of whom are credible.
“There is interest on the west coast of America. There is interest in Singapore. There is interest in Hong Kong and Japan.”
But Tew stressed the location of the 18th team would have to work from a draw and travel perspective which, at this stage, ruled out Eastern and Central Europe, although Southern Europe has also been mooted as a possible option.
“There are a number of possibilities and we will keep a very open mind. We will be part of the decision as to where that team is based,” he said.
Tew also did not rule out further expansion of the competition, even as early as 2018.
“We are going to take a deep breath as we work towards about 2018 and see if there is any room for future expansion,” he said.
“We are trying to keep the door open for New Zealand too. That’s another consideration for us.”
There was also the possibility of the competition eventually becoming global.
“We don’t make any apology for always looking to do things differently and be better,” Tew added.
“We are incredibly keen for the game to grow out of traditional markets. If we only ever have rugby in the countries we all know so well – the British Isles, France and the Sanzar countries – then eventually we will fall behind.
“We need to grow the game. We need to take it to new markets and we see Sanzar as being at the vanguard of that.”
© Copyright PA Sport 2014, All Rights Reserved