ARU boss O’Neill talks up Super 15 expansion for 2011




Australian Rugby Union (ARU) boss John O’Neill has said that he expects the Super 14 to expand to a Super15 by 2011.

O’Neill said that talks have started again between the SANZAR (South Africa, New Zealand & Australia) working party after talks broke down last year when the partners could not agree on an expansion of a proposed six team finals format.

The ARU boss indicated that a Super15 competition running from the March the 1st until early August in 2011 would involve an extra team from either Japan or the Pacific Islands and would incorporate six teams in the finals.

South African officials however announced last month that they will be launching a new Super Rugby team on June the 16th when the British & Irish Lions visit Port Elizabeth and they would obviously want that team to be part of an expanded tournament.

In the proposed expanded format, teams would play each other once in a round-robin competition before teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa would play teams from their own country again.

“We’ve renewed the work of the SANZAR working party so we sort of took time out coming into Christmas and back in discussions, it’s not CEO level, it’s the next level down,” O’Neill told AAP, adding that all decisions by SANZAR must be unanimous.

“It’s taking on all of the work that was done last year and in a sense getting it back on track.

“We’re officially back on the normal timetable, we had been trying to accelerate it, (but) under our existing broadcast deal we have to have a proposal to our broadcasters by the 30th of June this year of whatever we think is a reasonable proposal to commence on January 1, 2011.

“So the metre is ticking, dialogue is good, we’re all open to the same ideas that we were talking about last year, but I guess we’re not immune at all to the reality of the economic climate.”

O’Neill was quick to point out that it was highly unlikely that there would be any changes to the current Super Rugby format before 2011 and that there would be no change unless broadcasters came to the table.

“There’s a range of options (being discussed), the one in favour at the moment is a Super15 competition, going from March 1 to the beginning of August, everyone playing each other once and then each of the teams playing in their conferences.

“That gets you to 23 or 24 weeks and that’s still a very attractive offer as long as we are rewarded for it.

“People ask me what are broadcasters thinking, we actually don’t know yet.

“We know they have an appetite for Super Rugby and we know they have an appetite for expansion but the big unknown is what will they pay.

“We won’t know that until we give them a proposal.”

The current SANZAR broadcast deal expires at the end of 2010 and O’Neill said that while he hoped that the expansion would be approved he stressed that nothing was definite until it was agreed to by all of the partners of SANZAR ….and the broadcaster.

“I think everyone still has a black ball that they can throw in there, O’Neill said.

“The ARU’s preference is for expansion in a way that’s fiscally responsible, but then again if nothing changes then we have to wait another five years to have a crack at it.”

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