Melbourne the favourite for Super15

If the Super 15 does go ahead SANZAR will have to give a licence to a 15th team and even though the expansion of the Super 14 to a Super 15 seems unlikely the battle for that team is hotting up.

If the SANZAR partners can get over their numerous scheduling differences there will still be a battle between South Africa and Australia for that 15th team.

South Africa want their Southern Kings from the Eastern Cape to be named as the 15th team while Australia just want the 15th team at this stage.

However it has been revealed that if Australia do get the 15th team the battle in Australia looks set to be between a Gold Coast consortium and Melbourne.

Melbourne was the first Australian city to declare itself a contender for the new Super 15 franchise but for months there has been intense speculation of a second bid, either from the Gold Coast or western Sydney.

Australian Rugby Union boss John O’Neill has indicated that Melbourne was the clear favourite in the race, even suggesting Australia might enter into a joint venture with New Zealand to set up a new franchise in the Victorian capital.

“Just thinking outside the square, if you’re getting to market saturation point in New Zealand then that’s something we should look at,” said O’Neill, who had in mind a joint venture not just in terms of funding any new Melbourne franchise but also in terms of finding players for it.

“When a NZ team plays an Australian team in Super 14, the ratings are fabulous but when two NZ teams play each other, the ratings here also are very strong and that’s because there are about a million New Zealanders living in Australia.” he told the Australian.

“When the All Blacks were based in Melbourne during the 2003 World Cup, they received tremendous support, as have Crusaders’ pre-season matches against the Western Force.”

If Melbourne do win the Australian leg of the race they still have to beat the Southern Kings for the right to field the 15th team in the competition which seems less likely to happen by the day.

But being the favourite to get an Australian Super Rugby team might not be enough as O’Neill says that the only formal expression of interest had been lodged by the Gold Coast Rugby Union.

Prominent Gold Coast businessman Terry Jackman said yesterday preliminary steps had been taken to set up a consortium to challenge Melbourne for the licence.

“The Gold Coast is the third-biggest city behind Sydney and Brisbane in Australia’s rugby heartland yet, while it boasts an NRL side, is earmarked for an AFL team, and even has soccer and basketball teams.

“The only rugby presence there is the Gold Coast Breakers, which plays in the Brisbane club competition,” Jackman said.

He confirmed he had approached a wealthy Gold Coast entrepreneur – “not Clive Palmer” – to back any new Super rugby franchise to be based at Skilled Stadium, at Robina, also home of the NRL team, the Titans, and was confident there was sufficient private-equity money available to make the proposed venture a reality.

Jackman said it was planned that the new team would be a composite side made up of players from Japan, the Pacific Islands and Australia. “I don’t think there are sufficient players in Australia alone to man it,” he said.

He dismissed fears that a rival franchise just 100km down the Pacific Highway from Brisbane would undermine the already-struggling Reds.

“The Reds have got a million people in Brisbane to draw their support from,” Jackman said.

However, to differentiate between the two organisations, Jackman proposed

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