Australia and NZ have ‘Super’ fall back plan

Australia and New Zealand rugby officials still hope to have South Africa in the Super Rugby tournament alliance beyond 2011, but said Friday they are planning for an Asia-Pacific competition in case an agreement cannot be reached.

 “The New Zealand Rugby Union and Australian Rugby Union will continue to work towards expanding Super Rugby from 2011 in partnership with South Africa despite the current impasse in negotiations with SA Rugby,” NZRU chief executive Steve Tew and his Australian counterpart, John O’Neill, said in a joint statement Friday.

“A continuation of the SANZAR alliance at provincial level remains the preferred option for both national unions.”

But the statement said Australia and New Zealand have contingency plans.

“New Zealand and Australia are also determined to deliver a competition of the highest integrity to supporters and broadcasters and believe South African calls for further compromise will impact on that commitment,” the statement said.

“Talks will therefore continue on an alternative plan – an Asia-Pacific competition – to ensure a valuable and viable tournament is ready for implementation…”

Last week, NZRU chairman Jack Hobbs said the Super 14 and TriNations rugby competitions would fold unless there was a swift resolution to differences over a new television contract.

Australia wants a fifth Australian franchise and the expansion of the season, which already runs from February to May.

South Africa opposes such a move because it would affect the start of its Currie Cup domestic competition.

Slumping television and stadium audiences for Super 14 matches are jeopardizing the value of a new deal and Australia and New Zealand are looking for ways to rejuvenate the competition before embarking on new rights negotiations.

On Wednesday, South African Rugby acting managing director Andy Marinos said he was upset by talk of an Asia-Pacific competition.

“We’re committed to the Sanzar relationship and have no desire to walk away from it, but it is a cause for concern that Australia and New Zealand have advised SA Rugby  that they will be exploring the option of establishing a purely trans-Tasman competition,” Marinos was quoted as saying.

The statement Friday by Tew and O’Neill made reference to Marinos’ comments, denying scheduling was the only sticking point in negotiations.

“Mr. Marinos said the only ‘stumbling block’ to the expanded Super rugby format currently under discussion for introduction in 2011 was the desire of Australia and New Zealand to continue playing a Super 15 through the June inbound test window,” the statement said.

“The NZRU and ARU acknowledge that the June window presents a challenge, but believe a viable solution does exist which would treat all teams in the competition in the same way.

“SA Rugby‘s revised solution involves a mid-February start to Super rugby – to avoid encroaching on the Currie Cup  at the back end of the season -as opposed to the preference of Australia and New Zealand for a March kickoff, which is consistent with the feedback from players, fans and broadcasters in those territories.”


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