We now have an expanded Super 15 rugby competition after the three Sanzar nations finally reached a compromise around the boardroom table in Dublin today, though the champagne corks were not exactly being popped by any of the protagonists.
NZRU boss Steve Tew gave a distinctly guarded thumbs-up to the solution reached between the New Zealand, Australia and South Africa partners who make up the Sanzar collective over the future of Super rugby. This follows a prolonged impasse, where major sticking points had emerged over each country’s vision for the future.
Marc Hinton writes for Rugbyheaven NZ that at one stage New Zealand and Australia had even threatened to go it alone in an Asia-Pacific competition, prompting South Africa to respond with a threat to look to align with the northern hemisphere.
Finally some common ground has been found and a “delighted” Tew said that would now be taken to the broadcasting partner by the June 30 deadline. He added that “all the boxes had been ticked” in terms of key detail, such as revenue proportions and time-frame.
However, we will have to wait until next week for details of the new competition for 2011 and beyond as all three nations go back to their stakeholders with that information before releasing it publicly.
But be assured it will be a Super 15, it will feature an expanded conference-based format and it will offer significantly more product to the broadcasters for whom the competition is being tailored.
Asked by Fairfax Media about which nation had had to make the compromises to get the new competition over the line, Tew made it clear that no one was exactly dancing a jig following the Dublin pow-wow.
“Everyone had to make some compromises,” said Tew. “It’s fair to say we’re all satisfied. No one is overly joyed and no one is bitterly disappointed, which when you try to get three parties to agree to something as complex as this is probably the right result.”
Tew would not confirm that the new competition will be the Super 15 that has been broadly outlined in discussions prior to this meeting, but effectively rubber-stamped that aspect of the agreement.
“I think you can plan reasonably confidently that will be part of the detail, but I’d rather not go much further than that at this stage,” he said.
The NZRU chief executive also indicated that perhaps it had been the South Africans who had to make the most significant shifts in terms of their preferred model, when he explained the way forward from here.
“All three parties were pretty keen to get home and give our shareholders a little bit of insight into what’s been agreed before we went public. That’s particularly important for the South Africans so we’ve agreed to that.”
Timing has been a particular sticking point prior to today’s meeting. South Africa had wanted to retain a February kickoff to the expanded competition, while New Zealand and Australia were adamant a March start was the earliest they would agree to.
New Zealand and Australia are hoping to move away from the summer sports overlap in February and also see the benefits in giving international players a longer break between seasons. On the other hand, the South Africans are reluctant for the new competition to impinge on their provincial Currie Cup which starts in July.
Further complicating matters is the June IRB-enforced test window.
In terms of the 15th team, the sticking point heading into today’s discussions had been over whether Australia or South Africa should get the new franchise. Though, given the desire to establish three distinct conferences with more “local” matches, it was hard to see how a sixth South African side could fit in with that.
Tew denied the Sanzar relationship had been damaged by the at-times bitter and public nature of the negotiations, with the Australians in particularly airing many of their concerns through the media.
“We have a very deep and very long relationship with both countries and I’m confident our relationship with both is in very good shape,” said Tew.
He added that it was not unusual for three parties with such different interests and drivers to go through robust debate in a process like this. “It’s a pity that it’s been played out in the media to the extent it has been, but that’s just the way it’s been. We haven’t played that game ourselves.”
The Kiwi boss also assured the New Zealand rugby public that their best interests had been served, though he conceded there was a qualifier.
“You do have to make some compromise to get the bigger picture ticked off. Certainly our view was to remain in a three-way venture with Australia and South Africa was in the best interests of New Zealand rugby. All the information we’ve been getting from the broadcast environment, sponsors, and market research steered us down that line.”
The successful Tri-Nations competition had not thrown up “too many issues” though Tew said there had been a further meeting with representatives from Argentina with a view to their eventual inclusion.
It’s fair to say that things are not exactly rocketing along in that area.
“That remains a work in progress and it’s still to be determined whether we can fit Argentina into a Four-Nations and add some value. But we haven’t dismissed it either,” said Tew.
“They still have quite a bit to do, and they need to go away and do it and do it pretty quickly, frankly.”
But overall Tew felt it was a significant day for southern hemisphere rugby.
“We’re very pleased,” he said. “We needed some certainty, we needed to get work done now on detail so we can be in front of the broadcasters as per our contracted timetable.
“We can now take this information forward into our discussions with the Air NZ Cup unions next week and with a little bit of luck and a following wind we might be able to nail that quite quickly too.
“Then we will have real certainty about our competitions.”
Loose-lipped Australian chief John O’Neill for once stayed silent on detail as well, but did say he was happy with the outcome.
“ARU said from the outset its first priority was to expand the Super rugby competition in conjunction with our Sanzar partners New Zealand and South Africa,” O’Neill said.
“After what has been a long and at times robust process, that ambition has now been realised. We are excited about the future as SANZAR prepares to present to broadcasters by the end of next month.”Tweet