SANZAR (South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby) bosses are firming on how to revamp Super Rugby, with a 15-team conference championship from 2010 the preferred option.
The conference model, the format punted mostly by Australian Rugby Union (ARU) CEO John O’Neill, is understood to have gained the most support as it will provide more local derbies to please TV viewers and keep the travel burden at current levels to please the players.
Rugby 365 reports that the proposal is to split the competition into three conferences on geographical lines – so there will be New Zealand, Australian and South African groups.
A fifth side will have to be placed into the Australian pool to even numbers and that is likely, but by no means guaranteed, to be based in Melbourne. There is talk the 15th team could be in Japan or based in Australia but not necessarily be an Australian franchise.
At this stage, it is proposed each team play their own conference opponents twice – home and away. The team with the most points will be declared conference champion and guaranteed a playoff spot.
After teams have played their eight conference games, all teams play once against each team in the other two conferences. Those games will be scheduled as they are now, with fixtures on an annual, home-and-away rotation.
The three conference winners will be joined in the playoffs by the three teams with the most points. Details are being worked through to determine whether points gained in the conference phase should be carried over and if the playoffs should involve more than six teams.
There is also the question of how to keep conference winners playing at their best in the second phase after they have already qualified.
By 2012 or 2013, the competition is likely to include 18 teams, the new entrants almost certainly coming from outside SANZAR.
America and Japan have made convincing representations to be included and there is a desire to see an Argentinian presence.
Probably the biggest decision is around the flow of the competition. All three SANZAR unions and their player associations agree it should start later in the year so players have a longer off-season.
But with the qualifying phase expanding to 18 games and three weeks of knock-out football, the competition will run into problems around the June test window.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew, said: “That is one of the ongoing discussion points. There are various options on this. We could play through the international window or we could break the competition and resume after the tests have been played.
“This is an area that needs a lot of work and one that we are spending a lot of time on trying to come up with the right answer.”
The third option is to axe the test window in June and play more tests in October and November. That has long been the NZRU’s preference but they failed to gain much support at the Woking conference last year.Tweet