Argentina has a better chance of being included in the revamped Super rugby competition, despite a Pacific Islands team being a preferred option by New Zealand franchises.
The Herald reported yesterday that feedback from New Zealand's franchise coaches had suggested including a team from the islands and one from Japan in a two-conference model split between New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
However, Greg Peters, the chief executive of Sanzar, the organisation which overseas the competition, said while consultation was ongoing, he had yet to see the New Zealand document. He added that while a two-conference model was Sanzar's preference, the other guiding principle was the inclusion of a franchise based in Argentina.
"There have been two cornerstones that we have been guided by, one is that South Africa will have six teams and the second is that we'll use our best endeavours to include Argentina if that's at all possible," he said.
The New Zealand feedback left no room for Argentina, although it suggested players from that country could be involved with the other franchises. Instead, it suggested a Japanese team could be incorporated into the Australian side of the competition, with another new franchise based in Auckland and made up of players with a Pacific Islands heritage.
"The models we're working on endeavour to include Argentina because they play in one of our competitions now and it's logical to include them in the other one to create a professional rugby base for the future development of professional players out of Argentina," Peters said. "They would come through to the Pumas and the Rugby Championship. That is not without its logistical and geographical problems, but we are endeavouring to include them if at all possible."
Willie Lose, who captained Tonga at the 1995 World Cup, said of the proposal to include a team with a Pacific Islands flavour: "I'm pretty optimistic about it ... personally I think it would be fantastic. I think it's what the competition needs. Obviously they're not going to generate more money by getting [Sky] subscribers into Tonga and Samoa and Fiji but what it could do is give an alternative to players who would normally have to search for a contract in Japan or Europe; to play for a franchise here would be really special and unique."
Adding a team from Argentina would increase the travel factor significantly, something which is already high given Super franchises are spread between Johannesburg, Perth and Dunedin. "The problem for us is one of our primary considerations is player welfare, we're not extending the number of weeks [of the competition], there's no doubt about that," Peters said.
"We are also concerned about the integrity of the competition and how that might be viewed by fans," he said, adding: "In an ideal world, and unfortunately we aren't operating in an ideal world, every team would play everyone else. Under the constraints of the weeks available, the desire to retain the derby matches, player welfare and ideally reducing the travel component, that's not possible. It's not possible under 15 teams [currently] so it's therefore not possible with more teams."
Peters confirmed the NZRU had been consulting its coaches and other personnel, including players, over the make-up of the new model. He was confident it would be confirmed by the end of this year.