SANZAAR won't be rushing Australia into culling decision

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Super Rugby will consist of just 15 teams in 2018 with one Australian and two South African teams to go, but Australia's future is far from resolved and SANZAAR won't be rushing the ARU into an immediate call.

A SANZAAR process that has already stretched on for nine months is not expected to resolved swiftly, with both Australia and South Africa yet to officially make a call on which teams they will exclude from next year's competition.

The ARU is set to hold a press conference on Monday morning, after a board meeting on Sunday afternoon, but there will be no announcement on which team will be cut from the Australian conference.

SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said Super Rugby's governing body would not be rushing either country into making a hasty decision.

"No we haven't been prescriptive on a deadline," he told reporters on Sunday night.

"We understand that it's a pretty significant decision in each of those markets.

"I know that the national unions are working furiously at this point in time in dealing with all of their stakeholders.

"We are hopeful that we will have finality on the composition of the South Africa and Australia pretty quickly.

"I don't think it's going to be a quick decision by any stretch of the imagination." - Andy Marinos

While the broadcast deal runs until 2020, Marinos said they felt they could no longer continue with a format that 'simply wasn't working'.

"Without being too melodramatic, I don't think we would've had much of a product to put into the market come 2020 (with 18 teams)," he said.

"It simply wasn't working.

"The drop-off we're seeing from a viewer point of view and attendance was getting was significant.

"We're in a very competitive and congested market place, not only in Australia but in global sport, where people want to watch the best playing against the best with unpredictable outcomes and increasingly we were getting ourselves in a position where those outcomes were becoming more and more predictable."

While it would appear that the Rebels and the Force are the two teams most vulnerable, the ARU is believed to announce a forthcoming process to finalise which team deserves to be cut.

The Force finished round seven with a scintillating 46-41 win over fellow under-threat team the Southern Kings on Sunday afternoon, with players taking opportunities to show their passion for the club.

Rookie Alex Newsome grabbed at the Western Force crest after scoring his first try to put the Force in front early on.

The Force has been vocal about its community support since speculation first arose around its survival almost a year ago now, and recently launched an 'Own The Force' campaign, a move that aims to raise money in a public company in a bid to reclaim the franchise from the ARU.

While the Force had seemed the most obvious team to cut, their performances have turned around under rookie coach Dave Wessels and they have eclipsed the Rebels on field so far.

Stand-in skipper Matt Hodgson made an emotional plea for the survival of his club on Sunday night after their win over the Kings.

In the Rebels' favour, crucially and probably decisively, is the security of private ownership, with finances believed to be a major criteria in the decision to reshape the Australian franchises.

The Brumbies were the other team believed to be under threat but that would seem unlikely after their 10th-straight Australian conference win, a dominant 43-10 victory over the Reds.

The Canberra franchise was the first to react to the news on Sunday night, saying in a statement that four Australian teams was not desirable but they 'understand the stance of SANZAAR and the ARU' in agreeing to cut a team.

The Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA) has campaigned hard for the maintenance of five Australian teams, recently launching a petition at Strongerasfive.com, and CEO Ross Xenos didn't mince his words in a statement on Sunday night.

“Australia’s professional Rugby players are incredibly frustrated and deeply disappointed by today’s confirmation that the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) has voted to axe an Australian team from Super Rugby in 2018 and beyond," he said.

RUPA has launched a petition to keep five Australian teams in Super Rugby. Photo: Getty Images“Having signed Australian Rugby up to a competition which reduced local content, diluted tribalism and disrespected fans with its lack of integrity, ARU have now agreed to a new model which has protected the expansion teams in Argentina and Japan at the cost of one of our own.

“Despite receiving $30 million of additional annual broadcast revenue from 2016, the financial challenges of Australian Rugby will likely be used to justify today’s short-sighted and ill-conceived decision which will limit the growth of Rugby in Australia for generations to come.

“It is tomorrow’s players, coaches and fans who will now pay the price for this strategic mismanagement. This decision will be the catalyst for an irresponsible human cost without any genuine remedies to the real strategic issues that the game faces."

SUPER RUGBY 2018 COMPETITION DETAILS

The 2018 competition will be split into three conferences of five teams, with an Australian conference to consist of four Australian teams, though who those are is yet to be confirmed, and the Sunwolves.

The Jaguares will join a South African conference and the New Zealand conference will remain untouched.

Under the new format, teams will play every team in their conference twice and eight cross-conference matches.

The conference winners and the five next-best performed teams will play in a revamped finals series.

In a positive for Australia, the broadcasters have agreed to keep the broadcast revenue steady despite the cut in teams in 2018 meaning there will be fewer matches available to broadcast.

Marinos said initiatives such as a Super Rugby commission, involving representatives from each franchise, would be looked at with a view to improving the protracted and 'painful' process that Super Rugby fans have had to endure as they wait for the fate of their team to be sealed.

"Certainly we understand the challenges that there have been around the communication of this decision," he said.

"It is a pretty significant one and very complex with the number of stakeholders that you have to engage along the way and sport is that unique piece unlike business - there's a lot of emotion and a lot of politics and a lot of unnecessary leakage that may get out.

"One has to be very careful in terms of how you manage the process to ensure that there's no incorrect messaging that's getting into the markets that could have long-term damage to all of the stakeholders."

As for why it's Australia and South Africa making the difficult calls and not Japan without a franchise after the Sunwolves have battled in their opening two seasons, Marinos said the imminence of Japan's World Cup and the long-term potential proved to be major factors.

"Commercially it's an untapped market, and there's a lot of players that are migrating to play in that area as well as the fact that they're going to be hosting a world cup pretty shortly," he said.

"We believe in long term there's a lot more growth to come out of that market."

SOUTH AFRICA'S PROCESS

Little more is known about the future of Super Rugby. Photo: Getty ImagesSouth Africa Rugby will begin its process of cuting two teams this week, with a sub-committee involving all current teams to vote on the criteria to use to cut franchises.

While their next general council meeting will not be until August, they have reportedly flagged a decision will officially made by the end of June.

SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said with so many South Africans playing overseas and the performance of their teams in recent seasons, there was no other option but to reduce to four teams.

“Fans, media and broadcasters have spoken and we have listened to them,” he said in a statement.

“The 18-team Vodacom Super Rugby competition has not worked and we had to face up to that hard fact. The integrity of the format and the lack of competitiveness in too many matches were major issues that needed addressing.

“From a South African rugby high performance perspective we’ve had to acknowledge that the dilution of talent and resources across six franchises – at a time when rand weakness has led to more departures to Europe and Japan – has seriously affected our ability to compete across the board."

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