Aussies favourites for new franchise

Western Sydney, Gosford, Newcastle and Melbourne will compete to host Australia’s fifth franchise in the new Super 15.

Sanzar has decided that a new conference-based round will follow the regular Super Rugby round-robin. Each Sanzar country will host a conference and, since South Africa and New Zealand already have five franchises, it’s more than likely Australia will be awarded the new team to complete their quota. South Africa and New Zealand will bid for the new franchise but with the problem of overseas travel in what is an Australia-based conference, the fifth conference place could go to an Aussie team.

The Western Force joined the Super Rugby family in 2006, and since that time there have been fears that the three original Aussie franchises have become diluted. Australian Rugby Union chief John O’Neill said this will be addressed when structuring the new franchise.

“It is imperative that we learn the lessons of some of the mistakes which were made when the Western Force was created,” O’Neill said. “There was a bit of gay abandon in the ways players were recruited for the Force. We would also be very careful that the existing four Australian franchises are not diminished in any way.”

A proposal will be put forward to Sanzar’s broadcasters on 30 June where the new structure, which includes a six-team final series after the conference round, will be addressed.

The decision of where to base the new Aussie franchise, be it in Western Sydney, Gosford, Newcastle or Melbourne, will also be decided by the broadcasters. All decisions will be made before the end of 2009. Australians playing abroad and even Pacific Islanders could be recruited to play for the new team.

O’Neill said he hopes to have the six-team final series in place by 2010.

“It would give us a taste of what it’s like. In 2011 it will be the start of a new competition, but it is also a World Cup year.

“That will require some logistical manoeuvring to make sure that we get the expanded Super Rugby and Tri-Nations tournaments out of the way in time for the World Cup in New Zealand. We wanted to have the six-team final in 2009, but it got knocked on the head.”

South Africa are also pushing for the inclusion of Argentina in the Tri-Nations. O’Neill said this is still a work in progress.

“Sanzar has decided to put more grunt into working with the Argentina union on getting better assurances that they can provide their best available team. We also need to find out what revenue generation can come out of including Argentina in a four-nations tournament.”