Cut one of your teams O’Neill tells SARugby

ARU boss John O’Neill has urged South Africa to cut one of their teams who play on the highveldt so that it can open the Super Rugby door to a black team from the Eastern Cape.


South African rugby officials have not taken kindly to O’Neill’s suggestions that the 15th team would come from Australia as they believe that their new team the Eastern Cape’s ‘Southern Kings’ should play in the tournament if it is to be expanded.


SANZAR agreed to look at expanding the tournament last week from 2011 but since that time there has been little else that bickering between South Africa and Australia who disagree on the location of the new team and when the tournament should start.


What everyone did agree was that the new team (if the expansion goes ahead) will be the Australian conference


O’Neill, like many others does not see the sense in admitting the Kings, as politically important as it would be to the game in South Africa.


O’Neill does however believe that it would be in South Africa and the competition’s best interests if they replaced one of the three franchises in close proximity on the veldt – the Cheetahs, Lions or Bulls.


South Africa’s worst performing team on the road has been the Cheetahs who have yet to win a match in Australasia since being admitted in 2006.


The Cheetahs were admitted into the Super 14 when they beat a drive from the Eastern Cape that would have seen the Southern Spears admitted into the tournament.


That decision proved to be highly controversial and has come back to haunt SARugby now as they need a team in the Eastern Cape for political reasons.


“The Eastern Cape is a politically very important component of South African rugby,” O’Neill said on Fox Sports on Wednesday.


“But perhaps a better option for them……..we’ve got three teams on the high veldt at the moment, maybe reduce that back to two and include the Eastern Cape, that’s a solution for them.”


The Cheetahs and Lions did play together as the Cats up until 2005 but had two home grounds so home advantage was eroded and the team lacked a real identity as it was an amalgamation of two Currie Cup sides.


SARU officials say that they deserve another team as they bring the biggest TV audience to the SANZAR partnership and are opposed to the expanded tournament clashing with the Currie Cup which is the oldest running rugby tournament.


O’Neill says that it is Super Rugby and the Tri-Nations which ensured a lucrative broadcast agreement for SANZAR, not the third-tier competitions – which is something Australia do not have.


“We (Australia) don’t have a Currie Cup or an (New Zealand) NPC but at the end of the day our driving force of our success for 13 or 14 years has been Super rugby or Tri-Nations, we can’t forget that,” he said.


“The other stuff makes up the numbers but the revenue, if you ask Fox Sports what do they pay the big money for, they pay the big money for Super Rugby and Tri-Nations.


“They are the rainmakers.”


O’Neill is hopeful that if the expansion goes ahead the 15th team would be an Australian team which could provide a pathway back home for expatriate Australian players and also include a heavy Pacific Islander influence.


Currently uncapped Samoan, Tongan and Fijian players can only play for Australian sides if they give up their heritage and become available for the Wallabies but O’Neill said a change in the ARU’s foreign player policy could allow Islander imports to remain eligible for their countries.


“I think this is a win-win here,” he said.


“I think we can open the door a bit more on foreign players and give some preference to Pacific Islands players and bring (many of) them back from Europe and the UK.”

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