The three-nation Vodacom Super Rugby league will expand into South America and possibly another new continent as well from 2016, and will include a sixth South African team, the SA Rugby Union confirmed on Thursday.
The three-nation league will expand into South America with the inclusion of a team from Buenos Aires, while Sanzar, the competition's governing body, is seeking another new entrant, which could come from Europe, Asia or one of the foundation nations.
The new 18-team format - an increase on the current 15 competitors - will feature the existing 10 franchises from Australia and New Zealand and six teams from South Africa.
The 18 teams will be divided into four conferences, with the three new entrants appearing in the South African Group.
The new format ticked all the importanty boxes, said Jurie Roux, CEO of the South African Rugby Union (Saru).
'A radical departure'
"The new format and the expansion into what could potentially be two new continents for Super Rugby is a radical departure for the competition but one that takes the competition to the next level," he said in a statement.
"We will have had 20 years of Super Rugby by the time this new structure comes into place and the competition has grown and matured in that time to the place where it was ready to start pushing into new territories.
"The agreed design satisfies the needs of South African rugby, which was built around a number of key principles from Saru's perspective."
Those principles included the inclusion of a sixth South African team; no increase or a reduction in the travel burden on South African players; a reduction in the number of derbies; the inclusion of a team from Argentina; and a financial uplift.
'Historic travel burden'
"The agreed format delivers on a reduction in the historic travel burden on our players, as well as answering our need for a sixth place in the competition," Roux said.
"We are delighted to welcome a new entrant from our old friends, Argentina, and there is also a reduction in the number of South African derbies, which are seen as being particularly attritional on our players.
"It was a long hard, negotiation with a large number of alternative formats considered and discarded because they did not fulfil the key criteria. This new model offers a major new step forward for Vodacom Super Rugby, with the potential to grow further."
Regular season matches
With the new structure, all teams will play 15 regular season matches (eight home/seven away or seven home/eight away) made up of: four matches (two home/two away) against one of the African Conferences; five matches (either two home/three away or three home/two away) against an Australasian Conference; six matches within their own Conference (three home/three away).
All four conference winners will automatically host a quarter-final. They will be opposed by four wild card teams, which will be the next three highest placed teams in the Australasian Group and the next highest placed team in the South African Group.
The winners will contest the semi-finals with home field advantage going to the highest-placed team on overall standings points.
Roux said that Saru would engage in further stakeholder and broadcaster consultation before unveiling draw design specifics, such as the composition of the South African Conferences and providing an update on the tender process for the 18th team in due course.