Super 18: Where is SANZAR looking?
SANZAR has started a global search for an 18th Super Rugby team, but where are they looking? Jan de Koning investigates.
SANZAR has started a global search for an 18th Super Rugby team, but where are they looking? What are the criteria?
The confirmation that they are going to the marketplace came in the wake of the announcement of the four-conference, two-group model that will drive the competition into a new era from 2016.
While SANZAR and the three countries - South Africa, New Zealand and Australia - all claimed 'victory' in the 2016 dispensation, the focus have already shifted to where the 18th team will be based.
Given the jackleg behaviour of Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver, when he jumped the gun and leaked the format to his preferred contacts in the Australian media, the discussion surrounding the location of Super Rugby's 18th team will provoke some heated debate.
Pulver, in a subsequent media briefing, made no secret of the fact that from an Australian perspective there is a "clear preference" for it to be an Asian team, in order to be playing in the same time zone as the Australasian conference.
The ARU boss admitted that South Africa prefer an outcome that is "more closely aligned" to their time zone, but without skipping a beat, suggested that he sees an opportunity for a Japanese-based team.
There is a more 'neutral' Asian option, a team based in Singapore. They already have a world-class stadium with a closed roof and temperature control conditions.
According to Pulver the Asian team might be able to find players from the Northern Hemisphere.
"There are some very high-profile players who may want to finish their career in the world's toughest provincial competition," Pulver told a media briefing in a teleconference call after last Thursday's announcement of the Super Rugby expansion.
"It is quite possible they could supplement their playing pool from the Northern Hemisphere."
rugby365 can also reveal that there are 'interest' in Europe, North and South America, and also Africa, to be owners of the 18th franchise.
Kenya has been raised as a possible seventh African team, which would obviously suit South Africa. Namibia would have been an even better option, given their close ties with the South African Rugby Union, but their financial woes makes them virtually a non-starter.
Other South American countries with strong rugby ties, like Uruguay and Chile, have been mentioned as possibilities and would also suit the SA conference time zone better than Japan.
The North American options, where the United States and Canada have some rugby culture, may also struggle to convince SANZAR of their merits because of time zone and travel concerns.
The American East Coast is the only semi-realistic option. However, listing any of the aforementioned as front-runners is pure conjecture.
SANZAR Chief Executive Greg Peters told rugby365, in an exclusive interview, that the 18th team will be decided by a "comprehensive" process similar to that which saw the Rebels beat the South Kings when the competition expanded to 15 teams in 2011.
"We are aware there is already interest from a number of quarters, who are looking at possibly putting a team in," Peters told this website.
"People will be invited to express interest in the 18th team for 2016 and that will be in a fairly tight timeframe.
"Those initial expressions of interest will be evaluated by the three SANZAR unions [South Africa, New Zealand and Australia] and then we will shortlist [those countries], who will then be asked to submit a full proposal.
"It will be a comprehensive process, where they will be evaluated against a set of criteria to determine who the successful team ultimately is. As we start to engage with broadcasters, it is important we have an indication where those teams might come from - which is why we must start as soon as possible."
While the last expansion saw them only looking at teams from within the SANZAR countries, this time the net is thrown a lot wider.
Peters made it clear, despite Pulver's public broadcasts, that SANZAR has "no preference" for any region or country at present.
"We are not closed on any proposal at this stage," he told rugby365.
"Ultimately they will be evaluated against a set of criteria," he said, adding hat some of the criteria are pretty obvious.
"There are geographical and logistical criteria; there is the value that the market and the team would bring to SANZAR; their rugby readiness in the territory concerned and their ability to field a competitive team; capture the hearts and minds in the area they are from, build a fan base is also important, because this an evolving structure for Super Rugby."
He said the potential that the 18th team could attract new markets to their competition is a big criteria, but not overbearing.
"As I have said, we are not [a] closed [shop], we don't have a fixed view.
"I am sure the unions have their own views, but ultimately it will be a decision that is taken in the best interest of SANZAR," he said, again emphasising that one of the criteria for the 18th team will be how competitive they will be on the park.
"That is a pretty keen criteria in identifying where that team comes from.
"Because the 18th team will be playing in the SA conference, there has been a suggestion that the South African Rugby Union should have the biggest say.
"Geographical and logistical concerns are a big thing when we are looking at the whole structure," Peters said, adding: "Player welfare is of paramount concern to us.
"However, I think it must be in the best interest of SANZAR as a whole and not just one country."
Peters said the process of finding the 18th team could be concluded by the end of the year.
"We have to draw up the shortlist first, from the expression of interest. Then we will have a full-blown process to engage in, to audit the proposal we get in.
"They must get a pretty comprehensive business proposal to us and we got to run the rule over those. And during that process we have to talk to the broadcasters about what their preferences might be.
"We would like to have it all done towards the end of this year."
By Jan de Koning
* Be sure to read our remaining instalments of the exclusive interview with Greg Peters, when he talks about the possibility of expansion down the line, the criticism expansion it is diluting the competition and detracting from Super Rugby and his view on why Super expansion is good. We will also bring you more on the view of ARU CEO Bill Pulver.