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Super 15 is not set in stone

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On Wednesday this week SANZAR announced that they had agreed on a working party that would investigate and plan the expansion of the Super 14 into a Super 15 .


As Bret Harris writes in The Australian, we already knew that expanding the Super 14 was SANZAR’s desire before the executive meeting between the three partners – South Africa, New Zealand and Australia – so what did they really tell us ?


SANZAR had agreed, in principle, to expand the series to a 15-team competition at a meeting in Perth last year, with the assumption Australia would have a fifth team.


They would allow SANZAR to create a conference system with five teams in each of three geographically based pools.


The meeting in Dubai told us nothing all that new, which in a sense tells us a lot about the state of play between the three partners.


If the expansion of SANZAR was an open-and-shut case, it would have been done at the Dubai meeting with an announcement that Australia had been awarded a fifth team, bringing it into line with New Zealand and South Africa.


Instead, SANZAR said the 15th team could be located anywhere – Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or even Japan.


This camouflages the central issue in the SANZAR discussions, which is the division between Australia and South Africa over the location of the expansion team.


Australia wants to base a fifth team in Melbourne, the Gold Coast, western Sydney, Gosford, Newcastle or wherever, while South Africa is pushing for an Eastern Cape team to promote black rugby.


The fact that the discussions were euphemistically described as “constructive” and “robust” betrays that division.


The question is, can the partners resolve their differences and present a united front to the broadcaster, News Limited (publisher of The Weekend Australian), before the June 30 deadline?


Under SANZAR rules, each partner has to agree before anything can be done.


Persuading South Africa to agree to a fifth Australian team will be extremely difficult.


Until last year, South Africa showed a favourable disposition in SANZAR negotiations, but it has become more combative.


The Weekend Australian understands that at a SANZAR meeting in Sydney last year the South Africans laid down the law and said they would not be pushed around.


South African Rugby Union chairman Regan Hoskins has received a lot of support in his homeland due to the perception he was standing up for South Africa’s rights in SANZAR.


In South African rugby politics, the provincial unions have a lot of power.


They will not tolerate any interference with their domestic provincial competition, the Currie Cup.


This is one of the obstacles that has for 14 years blocked the expansion of Super Rugby into a longer competition along the lines of the AFL and NRL.


ARU chief executive John O’Neill’s vision for Super rugby is to expand to a 22-week competition of 1 1/2 rounds with a six-team finals format.


The driving force behind expansion is to increase the value of the broadcast agreement and improve gate takings, which the Australian Super 14 sides badly need.


But expansion would be bad for the Currie Cup, and perhaps even squeeze it out of the calendar, which would be unacceptable to South Africa.


A sixth South African team playing in the Australian conference is a ludicrous idea, so why are the South Africans pushing it?


There is political pressure from the South African Government to add an Eastern Cape team, which has put the South African Rugby Union in a bind.


The South Africans know adding a team on the Eastern Cape would affect the Currie Cup as much as would a fifth Australian team.


Politically, the South Africans cannot say they will not try to get the Eastern Cape into Super Rugby , but if they are unsuccessful it will be a lot easier to reject another team from Australia or anywhere else.


Australia will be hoping South Africa’s support for the Eastern Cape is just a political act to mollify the Government.


If South Africa stands firm in its push for the Eastern Cape, it could create a deadlock that the partners are unable to resolve.


If the three partners cannot agree on the location of the 15th team, there will not be an expansion team.

 

 With thanks to The Australian

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