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SANZAR moving towards Super 15 without Argentina

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The southern hemisphere provincial Super Rugbyseries looks set to become a 15-team competition in 2011 and Argentina is moving closer to playing in the Tri-Nations, SANZAR said Thursday.


A SANZAR board meeting in Dubai resolved the expanded competition would include three five-team conferences, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, SANZAR said in a press release.


Australia will be a front-runner for the extra Super rugby franchise to be on parity with South Africa and New Zealand, who currently have five teams each.


The board also stated an intent for Argentina to join the Tri-Nations from 2012.


Argentina has been seeking entry to an elite tournament but has so far been unsuccessful in joining Europe’s Six Nations or the Tri-Nations.


The Pumas are ranked fourth in the world and finished third at the 2007 World Cup, but say they have been held back by their lack of regular top-flight competition.


“The executive committee also considered a further report from Argentina and has asked the working party to perform further analysis on the viability of Argentina joining the Tri-Nations,” Sanzar said in a statement.


In other SANZAR developments, the proposed Super 15would start later in the year, probably early March, and would contain one full round plus an extra round of local derbies between teams within each conference.


It was also decided that the finals would be extended to six teams.


The chances of a Japan-based Super rugby team have faded with 2015-2016 looking likely to be the next stage of expansion.


Australian Rugby Union Managing Director John O’Neill, who attended the board meeting and is pressing for a fifth Australian franchise, said there was a possibility of a “hybrid team” including Pacific Islanders, Australian ex-pats and rugby league converts.


“I think a hybrid team with Australians, Pacific Islanders and the odd rugby league player, and that could provide a very competitive team,” O’Neill said Thursday.


“We would have to be careful to ensure the existing four (Australian) franchises would not be diminished in any way.”


But Australia is expected to be challenged for the 15th spot by South Africa and New Zealand.


South African officials want a team – the Southern Kings – from the Eastern Cape to play in the Australian conference, reports said.


O’Neill reported the NZRU said some of their provinces may also nominate but he believed it should be the domain of Australia.


“The thing I keep coming back to is that the fifth team will play in the Australian conference,” he said.


“It really doesn’t make sense for an Eastern Cape to fit into an Australian conference.”


New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said that Argentina would more than likely not be included in Super Rugby.


“I think it is unlikely that Argentina will end up in Super Rugby. It’s much more attractive to see them join us, at some point in time, in the Tri Nations if we can make that work,” Tew told Radio Sport.


“There is strong interest from two or three places in Australia. Melbourne last time were a very strong contender,” Tew


While all three countries are united on the need for expansion, the size of the increase and the timing of the new competition are proving more difficult to agree on with New Zealand and South Africa keen to maintain a presence for their respective domestic competitions, the Air New Zealand Cup and Currie Cup.


Australia, on the other hand, has no domestic rugby competition.


“You’ve got three quite different perspectives there and that’s one of the things we’ve got to continue to work our way through and discuss and get it sorted out before we go to the broadcasters,” said Tew.


“One of the things we are very adamant on is Super Rugby cannot start any earlier [than its current February start date].


“In fact, we are making a very strong case for it starting in March. We’ve recently gained support from the Australians in that regard, which is encouraging.


“But these things are all book ended by commitments we can’t move. We do have June internationals, there is a Currie Cup, we do need to play the Tri Nations, we have to go and play rugby in the northern hemisphere in November.


“The biggest problem is the 52 weeks is not quite enough in the year. If someone had of designed a 54-week calendar we might be better off.”


Sanzar will take their proposal to News Ltd by the end of June and, depending on its response, could then take it to the open market.


“I think 2009 will be a year that we utilise fully because this is a very important decision, not just for the financial strength of the three countries involved, but also because it will help determine the landscape of rugby as we know it in each of our countries.


“So we have got to get this right and we are very conscious of our responsibility.”


Sapa-AFP Super Rugby

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