Super 14 Rugby

Super 14 may lead to lift on ban.

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The admission of a fourth Australian team to the expanded Super 14 in 2006 could lead to a controversial suspension of the current ban on overseas footballers playing with Australian sides.

The Australian Rugby Union next week will invite applications from selected cities vying to host the fourth Super 14 team but although the Gold Coast and Gosford are lobbying for consideration, all indications are that the choice will come down to either Perth or Melbourne.

Whichever city is chosen will be faced with the considerable task of building a team from scratch to compete against 12 long-established teams and one other newcomer, from South Africa.

The fear is that the new team might struggle for depth in a couple of positions, raising the possibility of the ARU granting a dispensation to import a couple of northern hemisphere players for two or three seasons.

The matter has been raised in preliminary talks before the ARU and the Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) begin negotiating a collective bargaining agreement this month, with both parties at least open to the idea of allowing overseas stars to bolster the new side.

“Any change of policy would have to be reviewed and discussed and until we’ve done a thorough inventory of player availability, the current policy will stay as is,” said ARU high performance manager Brett Robinson. “But if we need to review it, it’s always open to be reviewed.”

RUPA chief executive Tony Dempsey said that for the sake of Australian rugby it was important that the new team get off to a good start.

“There may be a case to argue that for the fourth Super 12 team there may need to be an exemption made, for two or three years,” Dempsey said. “If we’re serious about making the fourth team competitive, it’s one of the things that could be looked at.”

Yet if a dispensation is made for the new team, it could open the floodgates, with Queensland coach Jeff Miller and QRU CEO Theo Psaros both insisting that the same recruitment rules should apply to all four teams.

“It has to be a level playing field,” said Psaros.

But Australia coach Eddie Jones vehemently opposes making any exception to the current “no foreigners” rule, arguing that it was put in place to ensure that every Brumby, Waratah and Red playing in the Super 12 would be eligible for Australian selection.

“One of the things we said about needing a fourth Super 12 team is that we have the talent,” said Jones. “So I’m backing that we have got the talent and we need to back that talent because we want to have increased competition for places in the Wallabies.”

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