As Australia and New Zealand struggle to agree with South Africa on the future of Super rugby, a contingency plan involving a replacement Asia Pacific trans-Tasman tournament gains momentum.
Greg Gowden writes for the Sydney Morning Herald that although leading Sanzar officials yesterday would not comment on the alternative plan, which is likely to involve five Australian teams, five from New Zealand and several based in Japan, it is known high-level work on the proposal has begun.
This has happened because of constant conflict between the trans-Tasman neighbours and their South African counterparts over how Super rugby should be expanded from 2011, and what they should present to the broadcasters during the renegotiation stage, which starts on June 30.
Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O’Neill yesterday admitted SANZAR was “confronting some major issues, because all three of us aren’t on the same page”.
O’Neill said Australia’s preference, which has New Zealand’s support, was for the Super tournament to be expanded to 15 teams, comprising three five-team conferences.
Each team would play each other once, before the conferences played local derbies, finishing off with six-team finals. The expanded tournament, which would run for around 22 weeks, would start later in March. New Zealand is as convinced as Australia that Super rugby begins far too early in the year.
However, South Africa recently put up a rival proposal, which is termed the “Sandton option”, that involves teams not playing every other side, but playing across conferences during a 16-week competition.
This includes a three-week break during the June window, in which northern hemisphere countries play Tests in the south.
However, Australia and New Zealand want to play Super rugby during this period, staging Tests midweek.
Another problem is that South African provinces will not accept an overlap between the Super tournament and its Currie Cup competition.
O’Neill said Australia and New Zealand were willing to compromise, but it must work both ways, and South Africa had to bend as well.
“The clock is ticking,” O’Neill said yesterday. “Australia and New Zealand were willing to accept the Sandton option as a form of middle ground, even though it is far from ideal.
“We didn’t want to start early February, don’t want to break in June, and the Currie Cup provinces just have to accept there has to be an overlap.
“Everyone has been willing to compromise, but there comes a point where any further compromise just undermines the integrity of the competition. We have shifted ground to agree on the Sandton option, but the options attached to it are not acceptable.
“A competition where everyone doesn’t play each other is in itself a bit of a worry.
“But if that’s a way of getting us across the line, we could do it for a couple of years, as South Africa have been saying that by 2013 they could move to our option.”
Another Sanzar working party meeting is planned for this month, before a Sanzar board meeting in mid-May.Tweet