Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

NZ Rugby 'disappointed' in Super Rugby playoff format

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

New Zealand won't give up it's efforts to force a change to next year's Super Rugby playoff format, but the national union is resigned to the prospect of the status quo remaining.

The expanded competition has multiple flaws but the most glaring surfaced at the business end this year when the Chiefs and Highlanders were forced to play away quarterfinals against sides who gathered fewer competition points.

There were knock-on effects of the contrived format felt by the Crusaders, who had to wait an eternity to discover where they would play their quarterfinal and were then left stranded in Christchurch for two days waiting for flights to South Africa.

All five New Zealand teams have campaigned for the introduction of a straight top eight next year - where the four teams with the most points, regardless of where they are based, host the quarterfinals.

But that proposal has been rejected by the South Africans and Australians who want the continuation of a guaranteed home playoff spot for the respective winners of each of the four conferences.

"It's disappointing we couldn't get agreement," said New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew. "We would prefer to see a straight top eight which we think would be fairer."

Australia and South Africa argued that the results this year were an aberration and that it would be wrong to change something one year into a five-year agreement.

They also countered with the view that there may be more significant change coming in 2018 and that would be the time to reconsider the finals format.

Both Australia and South Africa are considering a proposal by consultancy firm Accenture to reduce their current allocation of teams for 2018. Both have been asked to think about cutting one team each to strengthen the overall competitiveness of the competition.

The Western Force are currently being bankrolled by the Australian Rugby Union and, although they began life with corporate sponsors and major local interest, much of that has dwindled in recent years.

That's partly down to the lack of success the Force have enjoyed on the field and also the slowing economic picture in Western Australia which has seen the commodity boom fizzle.

The introduction of a sixth team in South Africa has shown they don't necessarily have the player depth to fill so many professional contracts and compounding matters is the continuing exodus to Europe and Japan.

If there is rationalisation in 2018 then it would open the prospect of a restructured finals format where all possibilities could be considered.

As to how likely it is that Australia and South Africa will agree to sacrifice what they have worked so hard to be given, Tew couldn't say.

All decisions within Sanzaar need to be unanimously supported so ultimately it will be up to the Australian Rugby Union to determine the fate of the Force. It will be the same in South Africa - the national body there will have to be the ones to agree to any reduction.

Plans to evolve Super Rugby beyond the life of the current broadcast deal which expires in 2020 are still at a fledgling stage says Tew with any announcement some months off.

Even when there is detail to reveal, it's unlikely to be much apparently as the first stage of the plan will be to establish a proposed new structure and then work out who exactly will be part of that.

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