Sanzaar to reveal Super Rugby plans in the 'coming days'

MELBOURNE • Super Rugby's future structure and format will be announced in the "coming days", governing body Sanzaar said yesterday following a meeting in London to set the troubled competition's direction.

Sanzaar said the announcement would follow "final consultations" within the participating rugby unions from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina for the adoption of changes proposed in a strategic review.

"Sanzaar will make a formal statement on the future of the organisation, Super Rugby and the tournament format in the coming days once these further meetings have been concluded," Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos said in a statement.

Sanzaar commissioned an independent review after Super Rugby's expansion to 18 teams and division into three conferences last year generated widespread dissatisfaction from participating unions, fans and media.

The expansion broke new markets with the addition of teams from Argentina and Japan, but also resulted in more lopsided matches and a much-criticised play-off system that gave home advantage to some teams at the expense of others with better regular-season records.

The strategic review suggested cutting the number of teams among its proposals, according to media reports.

The Australian Rugby Union is under pressure to jettison one of its five franchises to shore up its finances and consolidate playing stocks.

SUPER MESSY

It's hard for fans to follow and I think it's not equitable that not all teams play each other - that's a funny competition.

DAVID WESSELS, Western Force coach, disagreeing with Super Rugby's current format.

South Africa, which added a sixth team last year when the Southern Kings re-joined the competition, is also seen as vulnerable in any cull.

Media speculation in Australia has swirled around the viability of the Perth-based Western Force and Melbourne Rebels, who compete outside the country's traditional rugby heartland and have never qualified for the play-offs.

Force coach David Wessels agreed the competition needed to be shaken up but said cutting Australia's teams is not the panacea.

"It's hard for fans to follow and I think it's not equitable that not all teams play each other - that's a funny competition," he told local media.

"I'm not sure that the five teams are at the root cause of our challenges. I think our challenges are around pathway development, coach development."

Although the current season has retained last year's much-maligned format, decisions taken at the London meeting could be introduced in time for next year.

But with the four rival rugby unions holding clashing agendas in what is effectively a joint venture, and a broadcast deal that runs until 2020, the final decision might be more of the status quo.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 12, 2017, with the headline 'Sanzaar to reveal Super Rugby plans in the 'coming days''. Print Edition | Subscribe