Australia have called for the suspension of the Sanzar working party agreement as the three countries continue to fight and fail to find common ground on the way forward for Super Rugby.
South African rugby have stated that they will continue to work to preserve the Sanzar alliance, despite the organisation facing the gravest challenge in its 14-year history, Andy Marinos, the acting managing director of SA Rugby told a media briefing in Cape Town.
Rugbyweek reports that Marinos said that SA Rugby remained committed to Sanzar and believed that every avenue should be explored by the parties before the June 30 deadline to present an agreed competitions structure to potential broadcasters.
The work of a Sanzar task team intended to devise a structure for Super Rugby on which all three parties could agree has been suspended at the request of Australia.
“We’re committed to the Sanzar relationship and have no desire to walk away from it, but it is a cause for concern that Australia and New Zealand have advised SA Rugby that they will be exploring the option of establishing a purely Trans-Tasman competition,” said Marinos.
“That is their right but the Super Rugby format that is currently on the table now has only one stumbling block.
“If we can’t negotiate our way past that, we’re happy to put both models before the broadcasters for their input – or follow Sanzar protocols and go to mediation and arbitration on the issue.”
Marinos said that the sticking point centred on differing attitudes to playing Super Rugby in the June in-bound Test window.
“We’re all agreed on expansion and lengthening the Super Rugby season,” he said.
“To accommodate that, Australia and New Zealand want to continue playing Super Rugby with weakened teams during the June in-bound Test window.
Whilst two of the partners of SANZAR seem happy to play internationals in the June Test window it would seem that little research has been done on this in particular as one can hardly imagine that the likes of England, Ireland, France and Wales would be happy with being reduced to being treated as mid-week teams in favour of a provincial tournament – even if they do tour in June with second stringers.
The Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies could end up with no one to play in June if the Northern Hemisphere nations do not agree to be reduced to mid-week teams.
“We prefer to start earlier – in mid-February – and then suspend playing Super Rugby during the Test window. But because of declining crowds in Australasia – particularly at the start of the season – they would like to delay kick off until March.
“We’ve suggested that South Africa starts the schedule two weeks earlier, while they start in March. But Australia and New Zealand are not prepared to compromise on that idea as they say the break would be an advantage to South Africa.
“For the last 14 years South African teams have been annually disadvantaged by the length of our tour so we know better than anyone about ‘disadvantage’, but there’s simply no way that Australia or New Zealand would be disadvantaged to anything like the same extent by this structure.
“It was their initiative to play through the June Test window but we believe that playing rounds 14 to 17 without the leading players could significantly skew positions on the log and affect the integrity of the competition.”
Marinos explained that the South African position had been thoroughly workshopped with the Super 14 provinces. “We’ve got 14 provinces all playing in two senior domestic competitions and two age-group tournaments and five of them play Super Rugby on top of that – and there is absolutely no appetite to compromise further at the expense of the Currie Cup .
“The nine New Zealand provinces who are not Super 14 franchise holders are also concerned about the impact that these plans may have on the fabric of New Zealand rugby – and they’re right to be.
“We want to expand Super Rugby and would even like to move to a Super 18 with each nation hosting a conference of six teams. But we would be reckless if we were pushed by another territory’s dynamics into destroying what has made us the rugby nation we are over the last 118 years of Currie Cup rugby.”
Marinos said that SA Rugby had also been exploring options in the light of the suspension of the negotiations.
“We all have to look to the future and we’ll also be following through by investigating some interesting opportunities that have emerged since it became common knowledge that this negotiation was proving troublesome,” he said.
“There is an interest from some of the Home Unions to link up in a regional competition in the same time window as the current Super 14 and we’re looking at other ideas as well.
“What we’re all clear about and have agreed though is to the continuation of the TriNations and will plan to meet with Argentina and the IRB in May to further discuss the possible inclusion of Argentina in the competition to create a Four Nations.”
Marinos said that the Super Rugby discussions would also continue at CEO level at the IRB meeting.
Once SANZAR do find common ground on the June window there is still the hot-potato of who gets the 15th team in an expanded Super 15 as South Africa are pressing ahead with their plans for a 15th team and announced yesterday that they have re-named the team for the Super 15 the Southern Kings and said the coach will be appointed in JulyTweet