History - the early days
In 1986 NSW and Queensland played against Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington from New Zealand, as well as a composite Fiji side.
For five years the tournament was played, a South Pacific Championship or Super Six, which led to ‘expansion’ when South Africa re-entered the rugby world and it was reborn into the Super 10 in 1993, where it ran until 1995, prior to the game becoming professional.
In 1996 as SANZAR was formed, the Super 12 was created, a professional competition and the first official ‘international domestic’ tournament featuring the strongest teams – which would become franchises – across New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
Five franchises were created in New Zealand, merging the 26 domestic unions. The Kiwi sides are representative of their 'catchment areas' (the collection of unions that make up the franchise). The three Australian teams were the traditional rugby states of New South Wales and Queensland and a new team from the ACT called the Brumbies. For the first three years of the competition, South Africa determined its sides via qualification in the Currie Cup, with the four semi-finalists from the previous season taking part, before they loosely followed the Kiwi model and created franchises from combined Currie Cup unions.
In 2006 Super 14 came into fruition, with the Western Force and Cheetahs joining the fold, naturally extending the round-robin regular season competition, while the Super Rugby Final’s Series format of the top four playing semi-finals continued.
In 2011, Super Rugby expanded to 15 teams - with the Melbourne Rebels the new franchise - and was split into three conferences, each with five teams and based in one of the three nations.
At the same time, the regular season expands to 16 matches with each team will playing a double round-robin within its home conference, and single matches against four teams from each of the other conferences.
The Finals Series expand to six teams, with the conference winners joined by the three non-winners with the most competition points without regard to conference affiliation. The two conference winners with the most competition points received a first-round bye.
In 2011 the Reds became the first Australian team outside the Brumbies to win a title, winning Super Rugby with a victory over the Crusaders in what was dubbed the battle of the hardship teams - with Queensland hit by floods and Christchurch rocked by a earthquake which disrupted both team's season.
The Chiefs went back-to-back the following two years with wins over the Sharks and Brumbies respectively, the Waratahs held the trophy aloft in 2014 with a thrilling win over the Crusaders while the Highlanders beat the Hurricanes to keep the trophy in the final season of Super Rugby as we knew it.
2016 - 2017
In 2016, the evolution of Super Rugby continued with three new sides introduced to an expanded four-conference 18-team. The Kings from South Africa returned to the fray, along with new teams: the Jaguares from Argentina; and the Sunwolves from Japan, taking Super Rugby to new places, new markets and new crowds.
The 18 teams were arranged in four conferences.
The season comprised 135 regular season matches played across 17 rounds. After the regular season an eight-team, three-week, seven-match finals series determined the overall winner.
Regular Season Pool Matches (two-year rotation)
- Each team played 15 matches (and has two byes).
- Each team will played 6 matches within its Conference
- Each team will played 9 matches against other Conference teams
- Each team had eight home matches and seven away matches (alternated over the two-year rotational draw cycle)
- Internal and cross conference opposition ‘swapped’ over the two-year draw cycle.
Qualify for finals
- 4 Conference winners (host quarter-final)
- 4 wildcards places
- Best placed runner-up team (based on tournament points) from either Africa 1 or Africa 2 Conference
- Three next best teams (based on tournament points) from either the New Zealand or Australian Conferences
The teams winning places in the Finals (Conference winners and wild cards) ranked 1-8 based on the final number of competition points attained and the following order.
QF 1: 1 v 8
QF 2: 2 v 7
QF 3: 3 v 6
QF 4: 4 v 5
Rank 1-4: Conference winners - rank determined by final number competition points
Rank 5-8: Wild card rankings determined by final number competition points
SF 1: Winner QF 1 v Winner QF 4
SF 2: Winner QF 2 v Winner QF 3
Winner SF1 v Winner SF2
2018 - present
In a brave move that recognised that the 18-team format did not work, was confusing and had diluted the standards of the competition, SANZAAR announced in April 2017 that the tournament in 2018 would be restructured. The 18-team, four Conference format was changed to a 15-team, three Conference format. Gone from the competition were the Force (Australia), Kings and Cheetahs (South Africa). The Jaguares remained in the now one South African Conference while the Sunwolves joined the Australia Conference.
Australian Conference: Brumbies, Rebels, Reds, Waratahs, Sunwolves
New Zealand Conference: Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders, Hurricanes
South African Conference: Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers, Jaguares
Each team plays 16 regular season Conference matches, 8 home and 8 away. This includes eight matches within their own Conference (home and away) and eight matches against teams from each of the other Conferences (home or away). This is 120 matches in the regular season with a seven-match, eight-team finals series.
Competition points will be awarded in all Regular Season matches on the following basis:
- Win: 4 points
- Draw: 2 points
- Loss: 0 points for a loss of 8+ points
- Bonus: 1 point for a loss between 1-7 points
- Bonus: 1 point for scoring 3+ tries more than the opponent
- Bye: 0 points
Quarter-final Hosts (4 teams)
- Three Conference winners
- Best Wildcard team – (based on tournament points) regardless of Conference
Quarter-final Wildcard spots (4 teams)
- Four next best Wildcard teams (based on tournament points) regardless of Conference
Tie Breaking Rules:
In the event two or more teams are equal on tournament points for any position in their respective conference at end of regular season, the following will apply to determine final conference positions:
- Most wins from all matches;
- Highest aggregate points difference from all matches;
- Most tries from all matches;
- Highest aggregate difference of total tries for versus tries scored against from all matches;
- Coin toss.
The teams winning places in the Finals will be ranked 1-8 based on Conference Winners and the final number of competition points attained and the following order.
- Rank 1-3 Conference winners determined by final number competition points
- Rank 4 – Best Wildcard team based on tournament points
- Rank 5-8: Wild cards determined by final number competition points
QF 1: 1 v 8
QF 2: 4 v 5
QF 3: 2 v 7
QF 4: 3 v 6
SF 1: Winner QF 1 v Winner QF 2
SF 2: Winner QF 3 v Winner QF 4
Winner SF1 v Winner SF2
Finals Matches- Tiebreaking Criteria:
If the teams are tied at full time in any Finals Series Match then the following will apply until a winner is found:
- Extra Time: played in two 10 minute periods with a two-minute half time
- Sudden Death: played for up to 10 minutes with the first team to score declared the winner
- Kicking Competition
Roll of Honour