Public uncertainty still reigns over Super Rugby’s future, as Australia and South Africa prepare for a possible SANZAAR stand-off.
The ARU board met on Monday, settling on ‘multiple options’ for the competition’s format beyond 2018, and though chairman Cameron Clyne conceded ‘opaqueness’ and uncertainty was not ideal, he was reticent to make any details public.
SANZAAR’s executive committee meets on March 9 in London, with Australia to be represented by CEO Bill Pulver and deputy chairman Brett Robinson, and any change requires a unanimous vote, with South Africa and Australia’s positions on the key sticking points.
A 15-team competition has been the most commonly mooted reform, with a reduction in travel costs coming from that new format, but would require South Africa to cut two teams and Australia one.
South Africa Rugby Union’s (SARU) board meets on Friday to discuss its options before the SANZAAR meeting, and is set to take the same tight-lipped route as Australia.
With neither country likely to make their positions public until that meeting, the respective unions will simply keep their poker faces on and hope their counterpart blinks first.
Clyne couldn’t guarantee a decision would be made in the March 9-10 meetings, but the longer ambiguity lingers, the more likely it is that the current convoluted format will remain, potentially until a new broadcast deal is negotiated in 2020.
“No one likes uncertainty, you're absolutely right,” he said.
“It's not necessarily a helpful scenario but unfortunately when you are in a joint venture situation, you have to respect the nature of the joint venture and you can't really conduct scenario planning and option analysis in the open. - Cameron Clyne
“I understand there's a degree of opaqueness around that, and that's why I think we'd be saying the sooner we can bring that to conclusion then that is preferable.
“We've agreed on what we think our preferences are and what's best for Australian rugby and we'll just wait until we've had a chance to talk to our SANZAAR partners about those options.”
Clyne did say that maintaining five Australian franchises would not necessarily be financially prohibitive, depending on the final competition format.
“It depends on the structure going forward. It's not really a question of how many teams you have, it's how many teams in the context of the broader competition,” he said.
“It's really a question of do we think the future model's going to drive more revenue that will sustain the number of teams.”
Once the SANZAAR meeting is over, representatives from the partner nations will still need to ratify the decision with their respective boards, a process that could again delay change given the political sensitivities in some of the countries.
In that case, SANZAAR’s executive could schedule another meeting, having already moved an initial May gathering up to March to discuss the competition’s future.
Despite the conflicting interests and difficulties in the four-country partnership, Clyne said Australia was still committed to remaining in SANZAAR.
The opening round of Super Rugby kicks off on Thursday, with the Rebels taking on the Blues.