Sanzar CEO Greg Peters dealt South Africa’s hope of gaining an additional Super Rugby franchise a hammer blow by insisting the format will not change until 2015.
In January the South African Rugby Union (Saru) committed to the Kings’ Super Rugby inclusion in 2013 but conceded that they did not know how they would be accommodated. They then rejected a relegation match as an option of trimming a franchise and also said a merger between two franchises was not an option.
Weekend reports indicated that the South African franchises had resolved to boycott the tournament in 2013 if they were not awarded another franchise. Saru quickly moved to dismiss those reports as false but did issue an ultimatum to their Sanzar partners saying: ‘… the franchises have made it plain that the only option to them is the expansion of Super Rugby. They also pledged their support for the Kings’ inclusion in 2013 as well as for Saru’s efforts to persuade Sanzar to include a sixth South African franchise.’
A letter from the five franchises to Saru president Oregan Hoskins stated:
* That such inclusion will benefit South African rugby in general;
* That none of the existing franchises shall be prejudiced by such inclusion in any way whatsoever;
* That none of the existing franchises shall be eliminated from the tournament in 2013 or at any stage thereafter as a result of the inclusion of the Kings;
* That Saru, as custodian of the South African leg of the tournament, will ensure that the Kings are included without prejudice to any of the existing franchises.
However, Peters insisted that no such concession can be made in light of the current tournament model being sold to broadcast and commercial partners until 2015 and the conference system being unable to function with an uneven number of teams.
‘The reality is that expansion of Super Rugby is not possible at this stage,’ Peters told keo.co.za. ‘Before their inclusion, the Kings’ aspirations were discussed in detail. How they are accommodated is a domestic issue for South Africa. And while we are always open to dialogue on this issue, it is incumbent upon them to make the necessary adjustments to facilitate the Kings’ inclusion.’
Peters added that they had explored a wide range of format options prior to settling on the current model and that there simply was no viable alternative to it at present. He added that New Zealand and Australia, the latter recording a 41% increase in television viewership in 2011, were opposed to any change in the format.
‘The Reds won the competition last year and I know other Australian franchises feel confident they can replicate that success, so it is understandable that there would be resistance to this idea from them. New Zealand are pleased with the model. They are realistic about the number of franchises they can field before the quality of those franchises is compromised,’ he said.
‘Also, we’re in year two of Super Rugby. The tournament in this guise is still in its infancy. It is nonsensical on a number of levels to alter its form.’
A final decision on the matter is expected on 31 March once all discussions have concluded.
By Ryan Vrede
Read Mark Keohane’s view on this issue here