Aus and NZ look to go it alone without South Africa

South Africa’s threats of vetoing Super Rugby reform could see them being excluded from Super Rugby as New Zealand and Australia are said to be investigating a new-look Asia-Pacific tournament.

Australian Rugby Union boss John O’Neill yesterday confirmed New Zealand media reports the SANZAR working party set up in Dubai last week to facilitate the introduction of an expanded Super 15 competition in 2011 is also exploring a radically different back-up model.

The fall back would be a virtual Super 12 involving five teams each from Australia and New Zealand plus a team each from Japan and the Pacific islands.

South Africa, meanwhile, would stage its own internal competition with the two conferences only coming together for a finals series.

Whatever happens New Zealand are said to be looking at taking the lead in changing their Test eligibility rules to enable its players based with Australian or South African franchises to be considered for All Black selection.

This move would make it a lot easier for a new Australian Super rugby franchise to assemble a competitive playing roster using surplus New Zealand talent.

The idea has been touted before by O’Neill who raised the possibility of a SANZAR competition-specific eligibility rule covering all three partner nations at the Dubai meeting.

At present though the SANZAR water is so murky its almost impossible to see whether Super rugby in anything like its present format will survive.

“Whilst the main game is an expanded Super 15, which remains our first preference, we clearly have to work on some other options just in case,” O’Neill told The Australian yesterday.

The “just in case” is a polite reference to what has become a backroom brawl with SANZAR with Australia adamant over expansion and South Africa digging their heels in to oppose any expansion of Super rugby that would push the competition into August where it would conflict with its domestic Currie Cup.

The other problem is who will get the 15th Super Rugby team as South Africa and Australia both want the new team.

Afrikaans newspaper Sondag revealed that South Africa Rugby Union chief executive, Andy Marinos, and president, Oregan Hoskins, both attacked O’Neill in Dubai for allegedly revealing details of the SANZAR debate to the Australian media.

Marinos told the newspaper while O’Neill might have decided the 15th franchise would be an Australian one, South African rugby would not be dictated to.

“The days that other countries walk all over us are over,” Marinos said. “We will do what we feel is right for South Africa, within the SANZAR context, and nothing else.”

Waht was agreed in Dubai last week was that the 15th team will be in the Australian conference if the Super Rugby expansion goes ahead.

Even though the 15th team will be based in Australia South Africa are insisting on the new franchise being the Eastern Cape Southern Kings.

The problems in SANZAR are not only between Australia and South Africa as New Zealand are also said to be tiriing of South Africa.

he problem reached a head last July when an agreement to stage a six-team Super 14 finals series this year was vetoed by South Africa because it wanted the top two teams from each nation to participate rather than the top six teams on merit.

So infuriated was one Kiwi official with South Africa’s tactics of obstruction at a SANZAR meeting earlier this year that he blurted out: “You know you are leaving us with no choice but to take the Asia-Pacific option.”

The battle field now has turned to the start and finish dates of the proposed elongated Super Rugby season. At present the Super 14 finishes at the end of May and does not affect the Currie Cup.

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