Sanzar relations 'fine' claims NZRU boss

By David Leggat

Rugby Union boss Jock Hobbs has dismissed speculation that relations between the three Sanzar partners are nosediving.

Hobbs yesterday bristled at the suggestion his union's dealings with Australia are poor and denied the present arrangements through to 2010 are in trouble. That's despite South African chairman Oregan Hoskins having expressed concerns at aspects of the three-sided arrangements that might lead his union to consider the big step of withdrawing early from Sanzar.

This week, Hobbs insisted that although Australian-based bosses at News Ltd aren't happy at 22 leading All Blacks sitting out the first seven weeks of next year's Super 14, they are working towards a conclusion to satisfy both parties.

New Zealand officials have been twitchy over dealings with their Australian counterparts for several years. That goes back to a previous administration's falling out over the 2003 World Cup hosting issue through to unhappiness over Australia's decision to favour Japan over New Zealand in the race to host the 2011 cup.

Most recently, there are suggestions that Australia, who hold the secretariat for Sanzar, did them no favours on the relaying of information of the All Black stand-down decision.

"Fine," Hobbs said yesterday from Toronto when asked how relations were between the transtasman nations.

"We've got some issues we're working through. But there's nothing particularly unusual or dramatic about that.

"It's so easy, just simply because you have some issues, for people to think there's some sort of warfare or a complete breakdown in a relationship."

Hobbs would not go into the detail of what the "issues" were but said he got on well with Australian administrators, including Peter McGrath, who is the new chairman of Sanzar.

He said the unions were not always going to agree but rejected the notion that the relationship appeared to be more about arguing and less about agreement.

"I don't think that's fair. It's just that you don't hear when we agree; you only hear when we disagree, and that's because there's greater interest and focus when you disagree."

The Sanzar contract is in place until 2010 and Hobbs was surprised at reports that Hoskins has been raising red flags over whether South Africa will see through the next four years.

Vast banks of empty seating at Ellis Park in Johannesburg for the final Tri-Nations test against Australia last weekend provided the latest spark for South African concerns that there is too much rugby between the three nations.

On top of that, Hoskins is believed to be unhappy over financial arrangements between the three. South Africa receives a larger than one-third split of the News Ltd money as it brings the most broadcasting revenue. Hobbs had no complaints over the financial disbursement.

At the time contracts were being renegotiated towards the end of the initial 10-year deal from 1996, South African officials investigated the possibility of joining an expanded Six Nations Championship, which takes place in a better time zone for them.

They stuck with Sanzar but South Africa are believed to be unhappy Argentina were not included to jazz up the competition, which having been expanded to six games each this year has the appeal of week-old bread.

Hobbs said he had no concerns Sanzar would remain intact until 2010. Beyond that was another matter.

"We entered into agreements which bind us together until that time," he said. "Post 2010 that risk [that South Africa would leave] must still remain. I don't dismiss it, I don't take it lightly but there are real challenges for South Africa in doing that."

Hobbs said there were issues within South African rugby that Hoskins had to "grapple with".

"They are not insignificant, though I just think to baldly say the extended programme for Super rugby and the Tri-Nations hasn't worked is an over-simplification."

Hobbs said from New Zealand's perspective the Tri-Nations had worked well "but obviously winning it helped".

He hoped the window in which the World Cup would be staged in 2011 would be finalised by the end of this year.

Hobbs said it was a "sensitive" issue. New Zealand had a preference but he would not elaborate.

"It's a matter the IRB needs to make a decision on, then deal with any issues which fall out of that."

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