March 17, 2017 / 3:57 AM / 5 months ago

Australia, New Zealand unions welcome rejigged calendar

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand and Australia Rugby have welcomed the introduction of a new global calendar from 2020 that will eliminate the temporary shutdown of Super Rugby each year.

World Rugby announced the agreement on the calendar on Thursday.

The southern hemisphere's Super Rugby competition has been hampered in all but World Cup years by a temporary shutdown for three weeks in June to accommodate an international window.

Critics have said the test window came at a time when Super Rugby was gaining momentum ahead of the playoffs and was putting off fans as well as being a concern for broadcasters.

"This is an excellent outcome for New Zealand with Super Rugby able to run without the disruptive June break, and provides the optimum preparation for the July international window," New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Steve Tew said on Friday.

"This has been an important piece of work which also takes into account the welfare of players, development and advancement opportunities for emerging nations, and an exciting programme of test rugby."

The new July international window will dovetail with the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship that starts in August.

"The new global match calendar is a major milestone and provides certainty for the game and its fans," Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver said.

"From an Australian Rugby perspective, our number one priority was to ensure that we could move to an uninterrupted Super Rugby season and we are delighted to have reached that outcome."

Despite the optimism, the future of Super Rugby is still currently up in the air after a meeting of SANZAAR last week in London to discuss its strategic direction and address criticism of the unwieldy 18-team format.

Media in South Africa and Australia have reported that at least one team from each of the countries is likely to be cut from the competition as early as next year.

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ken Ferris

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