SA offer to start three weeks earlier

In a bizarre attempt to find a solution to the SANZAR impasse, South Africa is proposing to start its segment of the expanded Super rugby competition three weeks ahead of Australia and New Zealand.

As the June 30 deadline for SANZAR to submit a proposed Super rugby format to the broadcasters draws near, the three southern hemisphere partners are pressing ever harder to find a way around the present deadlocks over start and finish dates and whether it will be Australia or South Africa that supplies the new expansion team.

According to the Australian the latest compromise to emerge from South Africa will mean that the three countries – which have never been on the same page through long months of negotiations – will not even be on the same page when or if the expanded Super 15 competition starts in 2011.

Under the original Perth agreement for the new competition, subsequently tweaked and shortened at a recent meeting in Sandton, Johannesburg, the Super 15 would begin with a round-robin phase in which teams from all three nations played each other, after which the countries would break off into national conferences where their five franchises would play each other on a home and away basis.

However, The Australian understands that under the latest proposal from the SARU, South Africa would start its national conference in early February, three weeks in advance of its trans-Tasman partners, who strongly oppose playing rugby so early in the year because of concerns about heat and spectator support.

By starting early, South Africa theoretically would be able to suspend the Super 15 competition during the three-week window in June for inbound Tests involving northern hemisphere sides. Australia and New Zealand, fed up with playing host to below-strength teams from the Six Nations competition, both intend to play their inbound Tests midweek, while continuing to schedule Super rugby fixtures on weekends.

Under the convoluted SA compromise format, South African teams would always be three matches ahead of their Australian and New Zealand rivals until all three countries finally come back on to a level footing after the June Tests.

Assuming the shortened Sandton option is adopted by SANZAR, that could mean that only the final round of the Super 15 would be conducted with all teams having played an equal number of matches.

The advantage of the SARU proposal is that South Africa would be able to stick with traditional Saturday Tests during the June window without running them in opposition to Super rugby fixtures and without impinging heavily or possibly even at all on its domestic Currie Cup competition, which this year starts on July 10.

The downside of the attempted compromise, however, is that it would further complicate a competition that even in its present long-established format still confuses many followers.

The Australian Rugby Union yesterday refused to comment on the latest SA initiative.

“At this stage, we’re not prepared to comment on any negotiations which have not been in the marketplace,” an ARU spokesman said.

As left-field as the SA initiative might be, it at least indicates that the South Africans privately are still prepared to keep negotiating.

Publicly, their stance has become less and less conciliatory, with SARU managing director Andy Marinos this week again threatening a South African withdrawal from Super rugby.

If that was to eventuate, South Africa would turn to Europe to find a suitable competition for its franchises, possibly in the Magners League, leaving Australia and New Zealand to carry out their own threat to set up a trans-Tasman series also featuring teams from the South Pacific and Japan,

The impasse has reached such a state that South Africa and Australia are even squabbling over which one has compromised the most. Indeed, Marinos claimed in a press interview this we

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