Rugby: Call for teams to be axed

Sunwolves Super Rugby head coach Filo Tiatia (left) instructing his players during a training session in Tokyo, Japan.
Sunwolves Super Rugby head coach Filo Tiatia (left) instructing his players during a training session in Tokyo, Japan.PHOTO: AFP

Ex-Aussie official wants Sunwolves, Jaguares and S. Africa side out of bloated Super Rugby

SYDNEY • Former Australian rugby chief John O'Neill has called for Argentina and Japan to be dumped from the troubled Super Rugby competition, along with a South African side.

As the organisers, Sanzaar, grapple with a way forward for the confusing 18-team, five-nation championship, the former Australian Rugby Union chairman said they must return to a 15-team format.

O'Neill said he fears the far-flung competition, beset with problems over its unwieldy conference structure, exhausting travel and lopsided contests, is losing its tribalism.

He has accused the organisers of trying to please everyone, including governing body World Rugby.

With six franchises in South Africa and five each in Australia and New Zealand, plus the Sunwolves -co-based in Singapore - and Argentina's Jaguares, the organisers are wrestling with the conflicting interests of the five competing nations.

"It will take some very bold decision-making," O'Neill told The Daily Telegraph yesterday, imploring the Australian administrators to stand strong against calls to axe one of their own five teams.

"Am I suggesting it's an easy solution? No, it's not. But you cannot continue with an 18-team competition, which isn't even a genuine competition."

O'Neill was referring to the competition's convoluted four-conference structure and fixture schedule that means the Golden Lions and the Southern Kings of South Africa will not play against any team from New Zealand during this regular season.

He said it was time for a serious rethink.

"What is the best competition structure that is ultimately and unambiguously in the best interests of Australian rugby?" he asked.

"Personally, I would not have agreed with South Africa going to six teams. That's a domestic issue that they should have been told to sort out."

And he was vehemently against the suggestion that Australia should lose a franchise.

"I can't possibly agree with that. It is not the fault of the five Australian franchises that this Super 18 competition is a disaster," he said.

He said the current format across five countries and 17 time zones, with matches being played from Thursday to Sunday, was logistically flawed.

"Latitudinal competitions - east-west competitions - do not work," he said, suggesting that Australia should even look at a better trans-Tasman option while including Pacific and Asian teams.

The far-flung tournament has its critics, notably England's former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, who observed bluntly last season: "Some of the games put me to sleep."

The new season kicked off on Thursday, with the Auckland Blues thrashing the Melbourne Rebels 56-18 in Melbourne.

Yesterday, James Lowe pounced on two wayward passes, while Hika Elliot took advantage of a day-dreaming defence to give the Waikato Chiefs a 24-15 victory over a wasteful Otago Highlanders side.

To make matters worse for the Highlanders, they lost All Blacks fullback Ben Smith to a head injury.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'Call for teams to be axed'. Print Edition | Subscribe