SANZAAR today is in a stage of changes. So much so that for the first time an Argentine will be the top leader of the Union that was created in 1996 by South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It is Marcelo Rodríguez, who will replace Bren Impey, who decided to resign at the end of 2020 after five years in office.
The Union started with great force 25 years ago with the creation of the Three Nations and the Super 12. They were two novel tournaments that for many years were considered the most powerful in the world by both teams and franchises. In the Super 12 there were five teams from New Zealand, four from South Africa and three from Australia. Its expansion did not stop and in 2004 they became 14 teams with the inclusion of one more from the land of the Boks (Cheetahs) and Western Force. And in 2011, Melbourne Rebels was created to become Super 15.
In 2012, Argentina, after a lot of work after the Bronze in the 2007 World Cup, managed to be part of the Union and changed from SANZAR to SANZAAR. The Pumas joined the Rugby Championship -which was the Three Nations- and an Argentine team was scheduled to join Super Rugby in 2016. That franchise was Jaguares, which did not enter alone, but Japan and another team from South Africa (Kings) to be 18.
In 2018 they went back with 15 teams and in 2021 a new modification was expected with 14 members already without Japan and with Jaguares, finalist in 2019, stronger than ever.
But in 2020 everything changed. The Covid-19 pandemic complicated the landscape of a tournament that was played on three different continents. Super Rugby was suspended in March and each country sought to build its own competition due to the difficulty of travel. Thus New Zealand took the initiative with Super Rugby Aotearoa, followed by Australia with the unexpected return of the Western Force to once again have five teams. South Africa, a few months later, managed to play Super Rugby Unlocked.
Jaguares, who came from being runner-up in a historic 2019 for the Argentines, had no competition from one day to the next. And for now, it won’t. Yes Jaguares XV, who played the Currie Cup B two years ago, will be part of the SLAR in replacement of Ceibos and together with Peñarol, Selknam, Olimpia, Cafeteros and a team from Brazil.
How is SANZAAR still today? In 2021 New Zealand will continue with its Aotearoa and the same Australia. Unlike 2020, what there will be is a Trasman, which will cross franchises from both countries.
South Africa? It will not continue in the South for the moment. It is already confirmed that in the middle of the year four teams will move to the European Pro16, which has Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy as members. A whole paradigm shift.
At the national team level, a few months ago and after many rumors of a possible withdrawal from South Africa, the Rugby Championship was ratified until 2030. It was excellent news for Argentina, which could lose all the top-level competition won after several years, right off the bat. Last year it was played in Australia as the sole venue and without the Springboks for not being able to prepare the tournament in the way they considered best due to the pandemic.
With the annual tournament of countries confirmed, Rodríguez’s challenge at the helm of SANZAAR will be to rebuild a tournament for franchises for 2022, which can combine the four countries. Will it be possible? Everything is uncertain at the moment but a new path begins with an Argentine at the helm.