ARU chief executive John O’Neill has attempted to play down rising expectations that Australia will inevitably secure a fifth franchise if the Super rugby series is expanded to a 15-team competition.
Bret Harris writes for The Australian that the SANZAR partners – South Africa, New Zealand and Australia – reaffirmed their desire to expand to 15 teams at a board meeting in Dubai last Wednesday.
But this did not guarantee theseries would be expanded, nor did it mean the 15th team would necessarily be located in Australia.
On arrival in Sydney from Dubai, O’Neill said: “The thing I’ve really got to stress because it is being lost in the telling by some journalists … that somehow or other it is an ARU decision and it’s a done deal – Melbourne,” O’Neill said.
“That’s just not true. We have been saying consistently this is a SANZAR decision. SANZAR will decide where the additional team goes.
“The only thing that has been agreed is that that team will play in the Australian conference.
“There is a reasonable presumption it should be in the vicinity. It doesn’t sort of make much sense for a team to be thousands of miles away and then playing in the Australian conference.
“People have to understand all the enthusiasm in Australia for Melbourne and maybe western Sydney, maybe the Gold Coast, Newcastle, whatever levels of enthusiasm are there is fabulous and they should channel that back through us and we’ll take it to SANZAR and SANZAR will make an informed decision.
“I read some comments from the chairman of the Victorian Rugby Union that we should stop stuffing around and just hand them the licence. Well, it just doesn’t work that way.”
SANZAR is expected to receive expressions of interest from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, the Pacific Islands and even the US for the 15th Super franchise.
But it is understood the decision, should it be reached, will come down to Australia and South Africa, which is keen to base a team on the Eastern Cape to promote black rugby.
“The competition is serious,” O’Neill said.
“There are provinces in New Zealand that aren’t in their five (Super rugby franchises) that want to be. Hawkes Bay, Manawatu. You can’t exclude them.
“It’s a bit hard to see an Eastern Cape team in an Australian conference.
“Maybe one of the better ways to accommodate the Eastern Cape is they (South Africa) have three teams on the high veldt at the moment. Maybe they go back to two and bring in the Spears (sic).
“Far be it for me to be giving South African rugby any advice, but that may be one way around their own dilemma.”
O’Neill said he did not have any preference for the location of the 15th team, whether it was in Australia or elsewhere.
“I’m entirely impartial,” O’Neill said.
“I want the best thing for SANZAR. Opportunities to expand only come along every five years and you’ve got to get it right.
“We have to keep reminding ourselves, it’s not just about Australian rugby, it’s about SANZAR rugby.
“We have some great choices in Australia, but I wouldn’t exclude Japan. By the end of the year, SANZAR will make a decision on the best location for that team.”
O’Neill said Australia would have to present a compelling case to secure the 15th franchise.
“We have to accept there is plenty of competition, but we know what the model is,” he said.
“Financial sustainability and viability, a good venue, government support, local sponsorship, players. If you line those up, and we can do that, it will be hard to beat.”
O’Neill conceded he was frustrated SANZAR was no closer to admitting a 15th team than it was when it agreed to expand at a meeting in Perth last July.
“I’m disappointed we have lost so much time,” he said.
“That’s my big frustration.
“I knew they weren’t going tosay ‘Australia, here’s your fifteen’.
“We had already said last July in Perth that it would be a SANZAR decision. We are being very consistent about that.
We had already said last July in Perth that it would be a SANZAR decision. We are being very consistent about that.
“But we have chewed up a lot of time to be where we were last July. That’s my annoyance.”Tweet