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Super Rugby bosses considering expansion

Super Rugby could expand to include Argentina and Japan

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Article Published: Tuesday 27 August 2013|

SANZAR rugby bosses will meet over the coming months and discuss the possibility of Super Rugby expanding again and the inclusion of Argentina and Japan.

The current broadcast deal runs out at the end of 2015 so the 2016 Super Rugby tournament could take on a different format with new teams.

South Africa have six Super Rugby teams but only five places so they want the tournament expanded for the next broadcast deal.

There are currently 15 teams in Super Rugby divided into three conference of five teams. The current format would not work with 16 teams as the conferences would be uneven.

However if an Argentina team were added to the New Zealand Conference and a Japanese team added to the Australian Conference as well as the sixth South African team added to the South African conference each conference would have six teams and 18 teams overall.

The current 15 team format does not have every team playing each other as teams play opposition teams in their own conference on a home and away basis and four out of the five teams from the other two conferences once each year.

All parties agree that the current season should not be extended so in all likelihood if the number of teams is expanded it is unlikely that any of the teams will play all of the other 17 teams.

One scenario that has been suggested is that teams could start the season by playing only the teams in their own conference and then they move on to a wider, inter-conference series of finals.

New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew has confirmed that they are looking at expanding the tournament for the next broadcast deal but he adds that they have certain "non-negotiables".

Tew did not want to discuss too many details of the possibilities but did say that the tournament must not be longer and if anything they would prefer it to be shorter.

Rugby bosses are also mindful that expansion does not come at the expense of quality of rugby. Neither New Zealand or Australia want to add further teams as it would create problems with depth.

Tew said that Argentina's involvement in Super Rugby would hinge to some degree on the amount of control they have over their leading players as currently most of their best players are contracted to northern hemisphere clubs.

Argentina have only recently gone proffessional and much of their structures are still based on amateur ways.

After years of lobbying Argentina were included in the Rugby Championship last year but interest within the country could be fading already as they played the Springboks on Saturday in what was their fourth home Test since admission and the stadium was only half full.

Tew says that they are committed to including an Argentina team in Super Rugby in the future but that does not necessarily mean that they will be included from 2016.

"We're committed to them being involved in Super Rugby at some point in time. One of the options is for some expansion at this next juncture for them," he told AAP.

"If we are going to expand then there's probably room for expansion in more territories than just Argentina."

Tew hopes that an agreement on what Super Rugby will look like after 2015 can be reached this year which will allow them to take it to market in 2014.

"We think we've had a good competition over the last 17 years. We're keen to preserve it in a form that will be future-proof," Tew said.

"All three countries have pay television platforms that rely on a lot of content. This competition provides a lot of content."

One change that could come with the next broadcast deal is that rugby fans could be able to choose between watching Super Rugby on Tv screens as well as smaller screens through digital live streaming.

Currently SANZAR sells the broadcast rights to TV companies who also get the online rights however the digital landscape is changing.

"Sky will remain an important partner until the end of this deal and it will be a brave person who predicts they won't be an important part of the next one," Tew said.

"But we're encouraged by what modern technology is giving us, including the opportunity to view things on more than one screen."

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