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Uncertainty over Australian Super Rugby future

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Australian Rugby Boss Bill Pulver has admitted that he is uncertain over the future of how many teams will be participating in Super Rugby after next year.

Super Rugby bosses Sanzaar have appointed consultancy firm Accenture to review the unpopular structure of Super Rugby and to plot the way forward for the next ten years.

The results of the full review are only expected to be out later this year but the Australian Rugby Union Board have already discussed a report which suggested a 16 team model with one team from Australia and another from South Africa dropping out from 2018.

Pulver has been a longstanding defender of Australia having five teams but even though the ARU agreed a 148% increase in broadcast money to $285 million over five years teams are struggling financially across the board and one may have to be dropped.

Pulver recently admitted that the financial sustainability of Australia’s five Super Rugby teams keeps him awake at night.

The ARU Boss says that the current broadcast deal had been signed as an 18 team format for five years but that he is “not sure yet” if this will change.

“I suspect there will be (five teams) but I’m not sure yet,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“There is a process going on in SANZAAR, work that’s being done with Accenture, to determine the future of the Super Rugby competition and really all aspects of the game. We’ll wait and see what comes back from that feedback.”

“I’ve always been a fan of a national footprint, I think it’s difficult to shrink a game to greatness, but we are one voice at a SANZAAR level, so you’ve got all the other countries that will be part of that discussion.”

According to sources there appears to be considerable uncertainty at the ARU HQ over what their preferred model is and board members have refused to give an opinion on whether Australia should go to four teams.

Pulver said that he was also not sure yet whether there was any of the proposed structures that would be ruled out by the ARU.

“It’s a good question, there might be, I just don’t know what they are at this particular point in time,” he said.

“Obviously we need to ensure financial outcomes that are acceptable and high performance outcomes that are acceptable, and fan-based outcomes that are acceptable. It’s a little early to judge yet but we’re not here to approve blandly whatever comes forward.”

“In fairness to Accenture they’re doing that research very comprehensively. I doubt that they’ll put any ridiculous models up that people are going to walk away from.”

Pulver would not give any commitments or assurances that any of the five devoted rugby communities would not lose their team.

“They’re totally engaged in the process, so they’ve been the recipients of a great deal of review with Accenture, all of their input has been included,” he said.

“We’ve also got a nice close relationship with the provinces, they pretty well know in real time where this discussion is going. We’ll all be a little wiser come the end of the year when these recommendations come together.”

Given that Pulver has not yet ruled out losing one of the five Australian Super Rugby teams so early in the review process suggests that they might be prepared to accept a competition structure with fewer teams.

Pulver has emphasized that Sanzaar is a joint venture partnership and that all parties would need to agree to any proposed new competition structure.

“There are very good quality relationships at SANZAAR level, to the point now where I think we each understand the respective issues of the other,” he said.

“We’ve always had sympathy for South Africa who have a uniquely difficult political environment they have to deal with, and I think they’ve got respect for the fact that we have some unique financial challenges, because we operate in a fiercely competitive market place. ”

“New Zealand, who have a lot of things going right, really understand that they need a healthy South Africa and a healthy Australia to realise their potential.

“I would tell you that the relationships at SANZAAR level are very strong and as a consequence I’m confident we’ll end up with a positive outcome.”

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