Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: NZ plans to keep niggling at Sanzaar

"It's disappointing we couldn't get agreement," said New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew. Photo / Nick Reed
"It's disappointing we couldn't get agreement," said New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew. Photo / Nick Reed

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

The expanded competition has multiple flaws but the most glaring surfaced at the business end this year when the Chiefs and High-landers were forced to play away quarter-finals 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 quarter-final and were then left stranded in Christchurch for two days, waiting for flights to South Africa.

All five New Zealand teams 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 quarter-finals. 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 competition.

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

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.

All decisions within Sanzaar need to be unanimously supported so 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.

- NZ Herald

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