ARU wary of Kings’ challenge

Australia Rugby Union executive director John O’Neill has warned that infighting for ownership of his country’s bidding 15th Super Rugby franchise could favour the Southern Kings.

Melbourne, along with Kings, will be considered for the additional spot when the tournament expands in 2011, and they are thought to be the favourites in the race given that the franchise will compete in the Australian conference.

However, there is significant infighting over who will own the franchise. An ARU board meeting on Tuesday is expected to endorse a management recommendation to award ownership of a fifth Australian Super 15 franchise to a group of former VRU directors backed by a Sydney mining magnate, ahead of the establishment Victoria Rugby Union.

O’Neill said that infighting was undermining their bid and warned that it could result in Sanzar awarding the licence to the Port Elizabeth-based Kings, who O’Neill has learnt will be heavily backed by the South African government, at a meeting in October.

‘Everyone wants to be on the bus but they’re squabbling over who wants to be the driver,’ O’Neill told rugbyheaven.com.au.

‘It’s very much about local personalities, and it’s exploded like Mount Vesuvius with a bucket of the proverbial being thrown over the ARU. If Melbourne don’t get their act together, there is a real risk of losing the franchise to South Africa.

‘There is another bidder for the licence, and rugby people have got to realise this is not an ARU decision but a Sanzar decision where the team is located.

‘Sure the 15th team will play in the Australian conference with the other four Australian teams [Reds, Waratahs, Brumbies and the Force] but the location of the team is yet to be determined.

‘People are entitled to ask how can you have a team on the eastern coast of South Africa playing in an Australian conference but Melbourne has got to realise the South African Government is a major backer of a sixth team from South Africa.’

The ARU and their Melbourne franchise will lose millions of dollars in broadcasting revenue if their bid fails and this is an obvious concern for O’Neill. The deadline for News Ltd’s offer for the Australian and New Zealand rights to broadcast SANZAR games closes on Monday, and it is understood an upgraded bid is predicated on five Australian teams playing each other twice.

O’Neill said a South African team playing in a Australian conference would devalue the broadcast rights and be a logistical disaster.

‘Four Australian teams travelling in and out of South Africa every second week would be far from ideal,” he said. ‘We’re in the middle of selling our broadcast rights, and News Ltd have indicated they will pay a premium if the fifth team is based in Australia. The significant increase in local content is the driver of the expected increase.’