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US style revamp plan for Super 14

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An expanded US conference-style Super rugby series is being touted by the New Zealand Rugby Union as a way of reviving the flagging Super 14 rugby tournament for the 2010 season.


NZRU officials have begun a nationwide tour of all the franchises and provinces to divulge their concepts, which then need to be accepted by Sanzar partners Australia and South Africa before they are tendered to sponsors and broadcasters, reports the NZ Herald website.


Much of this big picture idea seems to be a rehash of concepts aired recently by Australian Rugby Union boss John O’Neill. It is also a reworked version of the global vision of the game which was produced by the Accenture Report and an accumulation of ideas heard at the recent forum into the game in New Zealand.


“They are working very hard to get some sort of sea-change going, they realise that something major is needed to revamp the Super 14 much likehappened when rugby went professional in 1995,” a source said.


Sanzar’s broadcasting deal for the Super 14 series with News Corp ends in 2010 but officials are trying to offer them a new package which can begin that season.


The only change since Super rugby started in 1995 was to add two teams in 2006 and extra tests. Significant anecdotal, crowd and television audience feedback has indicated the series is becoming stale. Australia has long agitated for an expanded competition, which New Zealand has rejected.


But this year, chief executive Steve Tew has acknowledged that discussions have to be held about including the Pacific Islands, Argentina, Japan, USA and Canada – especially in the internationals which bring in 60 per cent of income during the Tri-Nations schedule. In the Super series scheme now being canvassed, the NZRU is promoting the conference system.


That could have five franchises and a Pacific Islands side based in New Zealand, five sides and a Japanese side involved with Australia and five teams and an Argentine squad based in South Africa.


Squad numbers would have to be expanded because of the elongated season, and if the series continued while the Sanzar nations hosted their obligatory June internationals like next month’s visits from Ireland and England.


Once the Super series ended in late August, the Sanzar test programme would start, followed by Northern Hemisphere tours.


It is understood club and provincial competitions would be semi-professional and be played at the same time as the Super rugby programmes. Once the NZRU consultation has been completed, the results will be taken to the board for approval and then be thrashed out with Australia and South Africa.


A large chunk of that discussion has no doubt already been completed as Sanzar officials were at IRB meetings last week in Dublin.


All Black coach Graham Henry has said the Super competition could be played later and go longer. “There needs to be a major motivation of the organisation [Sanzar] to try and achieve that.


It may mean that some players play offshore that are playing in that competition. “Hopefully that competition will be the best in the world.”


CONFERENCE RUGBY


* Super rugby could involve 18 teams.
* The series would start in March, running through to August.
* New Zealand, Australia and South Africa would each have six teams.
* Teams would play all the sides in their own US-style conference home and away, then every other side in the other conferences before an extended finals series.


Sapa – Super14.com

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