Super 15 expansion plans set to be unveiled next week

A bold Super 15 blueprint that will feature lots of local derbies in a three-conference format looks set to be unveiled next week after SANZAR have held their meeting in Dubai.

The biggest fight seems to be where the 15th team will be based for the the tournament that looks set to expand to a 22-week season running March-to-August in 2011.

A Japan-based outfit, built around imported stars, may just be the magnet for broadcasters because it opens a new market, whereas a Melbourne-based side would not gain a new TV audience.

Australian rugby supremo John O’Neill, his board and their New Zealand and South African counterparts have kept details secret during meetings over the past week.

The proposed 2011 competition format revolves around five teams in each of the Australian, Kiwi and South African “conferences”.

Each team within the conference would play home-and-away (eight matches) as well as a single match a season against the 10 remaining sides.

SANZAR offered broadcasters a content upgrade from 69 to 95 matches in 2006 when the last multi-million dollar deal was struck in the leap to Super 14 with the Western Force and South Africa’s Cheetahs.

Just what the broadcasters will pay in this tougher economic climate will be a pivotal outcome of negotiations when they start in late June.

“The situation is that Super Rugby will be expanded if the economics stack up,” O’Neill said earlier this month.

According to the Courier Mail the expansion will be announced next week and then the fight to decide who gets the 15th team will come at a later date.

Australia have their hearts set on hosting a new team but government pressure is on in South Africa as the Eastern Province want a new team which will be launched against the British and Irish Lions later this year.

Both NZ and South Africa already have five-team operations in Super 14 so a Japanese team would neatly round out the Australian conference at five.

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