Talks over Super 15 at a deadlock : SANZAR

The New Zealand and Australian rugby unions said Friday they were devising an alternative Asia-Pacific competition due to a standoff with South Africa over the future of the Super 14 championship.

The deadlock, a dispute over the structure of the season, comes ahead of a June 30 deadline for the three unions to present a proposal to broadcasters for an expanded competition to start in 2011.

“We remain committed to an expanded Super Rugby competition from 2011 in partnership with South Africa despite the current impasse in negotiations,” New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said.

“It is fair to say those negotiations have been going a long time and the clock is ticking, but that remains our objective.”

Given the deadlock and the looming deadline, however, Australian and New Zealand rugby executives met in Sydney this week to discuss an alternative competition, which could include teams from Japan.

South African Rugby‘s acting managing director Andy Marinos said this week that the southern hemisphere’s premier provincial competition was facing the “gravest challenge” in its 14-year history.

In March the SANZAR unions agreed the expanded competition would have 15 (a Super 15) teams and would involve three local conferences, with one full round of matches and local matches within each separate conference.

To fit the extra games in an already crowded season, New Zealand and Australia want matches to continue through the June period, when Test matches against northern hemisphere teams are played.

They also want the start of the Super Rugby competition to be put back until March, but South Africa is pressing for a February start and no matches during the June Test period.

South Africa has suggested its teams could play each other in February and then take a break in June while the Australian and New Zealand teams continued playing.

The New Zealand and Australian unions believe this format would not appeal to fans and broadcasters and would put their Super Rugby teams at a disadvantage.

New Zealand’s Tew said he believed the chances of the three unions reaching agreement were still good, adding that the dispute would not affect the future of the TriNations Tests between them.

Australian Rugby Union managing director John O’Neill said a two-round, 10-team “Asia-Pacific competition” was a viable plan, which could start without complications and may include two Japanese teams in the future.

“We didn’t start all this with a trans-Tasman option, but it’s a functional option and (broadcasters) find it quite attractive,” O’Neill said.

“You could add one more team or three more teams and make it a Super 10 or Super 12. Down the track, you could have two teams based in Japan,” he said.


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