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Super merry-go-round in full swing

Thu, 29 Aug 2013 08:33
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There's room for expansion in more territories than just Argentina
Quote-end

It is not crisis stations yet, but the three SANZAR partners are all still punting their own agendas ahead of the 2016 Super Rugby revamp.

Talk in New Zealand is all about bringing in teams from Japan and Argentina.

The Australians are happy to punt a split that will see the Australasian grouping split away from South Africa, who will then have to team up with Argentina.

In the meantime South Africa are playing hardball on having six teams from 2016, regardless of the format.

According to reports from New Zealand Southern Hemisphere officials will soon discuss including teams from Japan and Argentina in an expanded Super Rugby competition.

New Zealand Rugby Union Chief Executive Steve Tew confirmed that the SANZAR countries - South Africa, New Zealand and Australia - want to expand the tournament when the current broadcast deal expires at the end of 2015.

It said Tew was reluctant to discuss details, but options reportedly include adding teams from Argentina or Japan to enlarged New Zealand and Australian conferences.

"If we are going to expand then there's probably room for expansion in more territories than just Argentina," Tew said.

SANZAR Chief Executive Greg Peters hopes to finalise a blueprint for the proposed revamp before the end of this year so it can be pitched to broadcasters.

"We will know the format we are working towards [by year's end], but these things occasionally have something unravel as they go along," he said.

Changes to the competition are required to meet South Africa's insistence that they field six teams, rather than the current five entered by all three countries.

Tew said the NZRU had a number of non-negotiable conditions for the new format, including that it is not longer than the current version, that travel is kept to a minimum and that quality is not diluted.

Meanwhile Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver backed a proposal for Australia and New Zealand to form part of a two-conference Super Rugby competition in 2016.

Pulver said the plan, being proposed as a way of accommodating South Africa's demand for a permanent sixth team, was discussed at an Australian Rugby Union board meeting earlier this week.

''The current [three-conference] model is acceptable, but the other option is not a bad outcome for us either,'' he said.

''Both are workable from an Australian perspective ... If it did evolve to an Australasian conference that would be a good option.''

The chairmen and chief executives of the SANZAR nations are meeting in Sydney next week to discuss what form the Super Rugby competition will take when the new broadcasting deal takes effect from 2016.

The South African Rugby Union's demand that both the Kings and Lions form a permanent part of the competition cannot be accommodated within the existing three-conference model.

There is also momentum gathering for Argentina to join Super Rugby, with former Pumas captain and UAR board member Agustin Pichot telling South African media his country's entry at provincial level was vital.

Both could be achieved under a two-conference model.

Under one possibility South Africa and potentially Argentina would form one conference and New Zealand and Australia the other.

The top eight or so sides across the conferences would then meet in a finals series.

The ARU is understood to see merit in any model that would cut travel for players and result in more Australia-New Zealand matches, which attract higher broadcast ratings and gate-takings at matches.

''The outcomes we're looking for are to optimise the financial benefit from a broadcasting perspective, we're looking to protect player welfare and we also want to excite and engage our fans with the right competition structures,'' Pulver said.

''And if we're looking at a cost perspective then the amount of travel the Australian teams do are clearly relevant to that.''

SANZAR wants to have a format agreed by Christmas.

It will also be influenced by a push to move the mid-year Test window from June to July and have Super Rugby wrapped up before then.

Argentina, now part of the Rugby Championship, will also be represented at next week's meeting.

Pichot will weigh in via telephone and is a vocal supporter of a Super Rugby expansion plan that makes room for an Argentinean team.

Their inclusion was backed this week by New Zealand Rugby Union chief Steve Tew, who also signalled the addition of a Japanese or other Asian team.

''If we are going to expand then there's probably room for expansion in more territories than just Argentina,'' he said.

Sources: , NZ Newswire, NZ Herald, stuff.co.nz & AFP

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