Gold Coast emerging as Super15’s dark horse

The Gold Coast is emerging as the dark horse to become the location for the fifth Australian team in an expanded Super rugby series – the Super 15.

SANZAR have confirmed that they have agreed to expand Super Rugby to 15 teams in 2011 and that the new franchise would be located in a newly created Australian conference.

The race for the 15th Super Rugby franchise is expected to be between Gold Coast, Melbourne and western Sydney, although South Africa says the Southern Kings, based in Eastern Cape province, will also make a bid.

An informed source with strong connections to powerbrokers in Australian rugby has told The Australian a decision had already been made to base the new Super 15 team on the Gold Coast.

Melbourne had been the favourite for admission to Super Rugby  since losing to Perth for the last license awarded, in 2005.

A new ownership structure for the expansion team flagged by O’Neill yesterday may tip the scales in the Gold Coast’s favour.

The four existing Australian Super Rugby franchises – the Brumbies,  Waratahs, Reds and Western Force – are owned by their respective state or territory unions, but the fifth Australian team will be owned by the ARU in partnership with private equity.

The Australian revealed two weeks ago that a consortium was being formed on the Gold Coast to bid for the Super Rugby licence.

The consortium involves Gold Coast businessman and former ARU director Terry Jackman, who is a close friend of O’Neill.

The Melbourne bid is being driven by the Victorian Rugby Union, involving the traditional ownership model.

“The new team in Australia will have a different ownership model,” O’Neill told The Australian.

“I won’t go into an exact description, but we think it’s a chance to bring in private equity, which is something we announced last year to assist with the funding of the game.

“There have been lessons learnt from the way in which Western Force was established and we want to make sure that we’ve got safeguards in place and an ownership model that suits the circumstances of today.”

A major deterrent to the Gold Coast securing the licence is the possible impact on the Reds.

O’Neill is convinced the South African Rugby Union’s support for the Southern Kings has more to do with internal South African politics than a genuine desire to have Eastern Cape join Super Rugby – at least not now.

“The practical man’s approach … well, the rational man’s approach, is where else can it go?” O’Neill asked rhetorically.

“I’ve been forewarned that we will see a very loud and robust bid by the Southern Spears (sic) and my response is, well, that’s fine, you’ll see a very compelling and robust bid from maybe three locations in Australia.

“But the point I keep making … looking across the three territories, where is there still real capacity for market share growth? Australia.

“We could spend a lot of time on this subject, but I don’t think there’s much point in pondering over the what-ifs of this 15th team being outside of Australia because I’m convinced it’s going to be in Australia.

“It’s imperative for Australian rugby to get this fifth team. We are on a mission to get it. We deserve it.”

O’Neill rejected suggestions that Australia did not have sufficient depth to carry a fifth Super

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