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South Africa want 17 team Super Rugby format

South African Rugby Union (SARU) president Oregan Hoskins

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Article Published: Wednesday 13 November 2013|

Super Rugby's stakeholders will meet in London on Friday and Dublin next week to try and find agreement on the way forward for the tournament after South Africa rejected a two conference system.

Super Rugby's organizers SANZAR had proposed a two conference system in order to accommodate South Africa's demand for a sixth team but this was rejected.

Currently the 15 Super Rugby teams are divided by country into three geographic conference. Teams within each conference play each other twice on a home and away basis but they only play four out of the five teams in the other conferences.

This means that some teams miss out on playing the top teams and get an easier season.

Using the two conference system that was proposed the South African teams would play in one conference and then the 10 New Zealand and Australian teams would play in another conference.

All teams would play the teams in their own conferences and then only play the teams outside their conference in a 12-team playoff format.

However South Africa rejected that proposal as it mimics the Currie Cup and would not have too much appeal for local fans.

SANZAR now hope to reach agreement on a new tournament format but it is already clear that all parties will have to compromise on some level.

Each of the three SANZAR nations - South Africa, Australia and New Zealand - want different things out of Super Rugby and they will all need to make compromises.

South Africa and New Zealand have the Currie Cup and ITM Cup in their domestic calendar but Australia have no domestic tournament so they want Super Rugby to run as long as possible to give their players more matches.

New Zealand and South Africa don't want their domestic tournaments to be impacted by the length of Super Rugby and all parties are concerned about player welfare and their players playing too many matches.

SANZAR are also looking at ways to include Argentina in Super Rugby after they joined the Rugby Championship two years ago.

As South Africa have been guaranteed a sixth team SANZAR have to find a way to keep the home and away local derbies for Australia and New Zealand while keeping the tournament 21 weeks in length even though more team(s) will be added.

"We are still in discussions with the three unions on what the future looks like," SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters told the Australian.

"We are at an option stage, which will be further considered over the next two to three weeks with hopefully finding a resolution before the end of the year.

"The two-conference model was designed against an agreed set of principles by the three unions, including a couple of cornerstone principles which were South Africa having six teams and reasonable endeavours to see Argentina in whatever competition structure was arrived at.

"At this stage the two-conference model is still on the table but it is fair to say that there are some reservations around whether it appeals to all parties. "

"We are considering all options given the challenging geography we have in southern hemisphere rugby and the number of weeks in the year we can accommodate a competition because we are bookended."

Peters said that the two-conference system was the only model on the table which satisfied all three of SANZAR's design requirements.

"The two-conference model was the only model that could satisfy all of the design criteria. If you change the design criteria, you can bring other things onto the table.

"If every country can have a win out and think they have something that is important to them, that's where we should be headed. They won't get everything.

"There are a number of variations on this theme that we can look at that maintain home and away local derbies, which are important particularly in New Zealand and Australia," Peters said.

"And there are also more traditional competition structures that could also be looked at. But when we looked at those, none of those options satisfied what the unions had agreed on as the design principles for the competition."

"It is a matter of whether the parties are willing to compromise and to what extent they are willing to compromise on those design principles."

SANZAR want to have a finalised format for Super Rugby between 2016 and 2021 within the next three months so that they can put the proposed format to broadcasters early next year.

"We are now coming to a point where we need to make some final decisions about either changing the design criteria that was previously agreed or a solution that adheres to those. We are 80 to 85 per cent down that road."

On Wednesday however it was revealed in Cape Town that South Africa will be proposing a 17 team format which will include all of the current Super Rugby teams as well as the Southern Kings and an Argentinian team.

South Africa will propose to do away with the home and away derbies and instead have all the teams play each other once a year in a round robin format that was used in previous Super Rugby tournaments.

South African Rugby Union (SARU) president Oregan Hoskins told the Cape Times that South African teams are playing each other too often and that interest in local derbies has waned due to the frequency of these matches.

"My personal opinion - and I will canvass our franchises about this and I would think that they would support our proposal - our firm mandate is that we need to push as hard as possible for what is in the best interest of South African rugby, which is a 17-team competition. The two additional teams would be the Kings and a team from Argentina," said Hoskins, who is also the IRB's vice-chairman.

"I personally would love to see this 17-team competition where we all play each other, because less is actually more. That is the buzzword at the moment. But we are careful not to alienate Argentina because we fought for them to come in. If they can't make a team for Super Rugby, then that's their problem.

"But we must say 'Let's go for a 17-team competition and include Argentina'. That is my personal choice and I'm hoping that the franchises will be happy with that idea " that we mandate our two delegates in that way for the Sanzar meeting next week."

Peters says that SANZAR may have to consider a change in the design criteria for the new Super Rugby format.

"At the end of the day we want a competition that the fans can understand and engage with. They are the most important part of this. You can create any number of different structures, but you need the fans to go with you on it," said Peters.

"It always takes time. But there is a willingness on the part of all three countries to find a solution that works and accommodates at least some of the countries' own strategic imperatives.

"We are a joint venture, which is like a marriage and you have to have an element of compromise in a good marriage."

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