O’Neill backs EC franchise

ARU CEO John O’Neill has thrown his support behind the new Eastern Cape franchise, but says they should replace the Lions or Cheetahs.

With an extra team being added to the Australian conference for the 2011 version of the Super 15, O’Neill believes a fifth Aussie side should be chosen. He said this could be accommodated by adding a franchise from the Eastern Cape, but that either the Lions or the Cheetahs should be scrapped or should re-unite to form one team.

“The Eastern Cape is a politically very important component of South African rugby,” O’Neill said on Fox Sports.

“But perhaps a better option for them – we’ve got three teams on the highveld [Bulls, Lions, and Cheetahs] at the moment – maybe reduce that back to two and include the Eastern Cape, that’s a solution for them.”

O’Neill is adamant that an additional Australian franchise will lure enough quality individuals to make them competitive.

“I think this is a win-win here,” he said. “I think we can open the door a bit more on foreign players and give some preference to Pacific Islands players and bring [many of] them back from Europe and the UK.”

The logistics of the expansion to 15 teams is still to be decided, with O’Neill pushing for a later start to Super Rugby in March. However, this doesn’t suit South Africa as it encroaches on the Currie Cup.

O’Neill believes the South African domestic competition shouldn’t play a part in the decision-making process.

“We [Australia] don’t have a Currie Cup or an [New Zealand] NPC but at the end of the day our driving force of our success for 13 or 14 years has been Super Rugby or Tri-Nations, we can’t forget that,” he said.

“The other stuff makes up the numbers but the revenue, if you ask Fox Sports what do they pay the big money for, they pay the big money for Super Rugby and Tri-Nations.

“They are the rainmakers.”