Uncertainty is frustrating Australia’s Super Rugby players but axing an Australian team for expedience would be ‘voluntarily going backwards’, their representative body says.
Speculation over the future of the competition has resurfaced ahead of next month’s SANZAAR Executive Committee meeting, where national heads will vote on the format for 2018.
SANZAAR opted to conduct a review just one season into the new 18-team competition, after complaints over its convoluted nature and heavy travel loads.
South Africa could stand to lose up to two teams and Australia one if all nations vote for a reduced 15-team competition, though a 16-team option has also been discussed.
A unanimous vote would be required from the SANZAAR countries to change the format, meaning if the ARU board commits to five franchises next week, Super Rugby will remain the same.
Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) CEO Ross Xenos made it clear on Thursday the players’ stance was to keep five Australian Super Rugby franchises, ahead of a crucial ARU board meeting next Monday, determining Australia’s position on the future.
“The ARU has a vision to ‘inspire all Australians’ but there is nothing inspirational for any of the game’s stakeholders in voluntarily going backwards,” he said.
Xenos said he had been speaking to the ARU about its decision, but prepared for anything to happen in the coming days.
“The ARU have kept us up to speed with some of their thinking and planning around their position that they would take to the SANZAAR Executive Committee meeting,” Xenos said.
“When you overlay all the different interests and political tensions, things can move slowly or things can move rapidly depending on shifts in nation’s views.”
The Western Force originally seemed Australia’s most vulnerable team, but the Perth franchise has recently moved to shore up its financial future with a $1.5 million sponsorship and a fan ownership campaign.
Continued uncertainty is not ideal for RUPA or its members, with negotiations for Australia’s new collective bargaining agreement underway.
The impact of the competition limbo has already been seen in Perth, with Wallabies lock Adam Coleman holding off on committing to the Force until its Super Rugby future is confirmed.
“We’ve been negotiating for a new Collective Bargaining (Agreement) with rugby bodies since last year and I think it would be fair to say that those negotiations are difficult in such an uncertain environment,” Xenos said.
Xenos said RUPA would support a move to a trans-Tasman model, where Australian and New Zealand teams play each other more often and potentially face off against teams in Asia, like the Sunwolves.
In that concept, there could be some sort of cross-competition finals series with teams from South Africa and Argentina, in a bid to reduce travel load and increase local derbies.
“It’s in the players’ interests to have the opportunity to play in meaningful matches and to genuinely contribute to the financial health of the game,” Xenos said.
“They strongly believe that five professional franchises gives the game the greatest opportunity to generate the revenues to allow professional rugby to be a break even venture to allow for appropriate investments in grassroots.”
In a statement on Thursday, recently elected RUPA President Dean Mumm was emphatic in his plea to maintain five Super Rugby teams.
“The players are engaged in ensuring that any new competition model genuinely remedies the current competition’s strategic failings and delivers more relevant, local derbies for Australian Rugby fans to enjoy,” he said.
“Other codes in this country are growing their domestic competitions and fixtures at significant pace, and we simply can’t do the opposite in an attempt to shrink our way to success.”