Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Change and conflict on cards

Tawera Kerr-Barlow asks Dane Coles about his plans for after the game. Photo / photosport.nz
Tawera Kerr-Barlow asks Dane Coles about his plans for after the game. Photo / photosport.nz

Change is coming to Super Rugby and so too, most likely, is conflict. Which parties will end up at war is now the big question after Sanzaar revealed that a summit meeting in London has paved the way for a new Super Rugby format.

The answer will be revealed early this week after the respective member unions brief their various stakeholders on the plans.

The expectation is that there will be a reduction of teams for next year's competition. All parties agreed before they met in London that the best outcome was to cut the competition to 15 teams - that way there could be three equal pools of five and a more equitable path to the playoffs.

If that goal has been achieved then it is probable that South Africa have agreed to cut their representation from six to four teams.

They have growing financial difficulties and the game is struggling to engage its fan base the way it once was. A 16-team format is a possibility, but it won't address the key issue of integrity and fairness.

If a third team is to be culled, the choice would be between the Sunwolves and one from Australia, with the latter more likely.

While the Japanese venture has been shambolic since it's inception, the prevailing view is that the Sunwolves are worth the long term investment. Rugby is growing in Japan - the world's third largest economy.

I the Australian Rugby Union has agreed to reduce its footprint from five to four teams, it will be in direct conflict with the Australian Rugby Players' Association who have campaigned hard to retain the status quo.

The players can't see the logic in reducing the number of contracts available when so many players are already being lured offshore.

The extra difficulty for the ARU will be determining which venture to cut. The prolonged playing and financial difficulties of both the Force and Rebels make them the favourites, but the latter is a critical broadcast market and it may be hard for the ARU to persuade its TV partners that leaving Melbourne is a smart move.

The Force are being underwritten by the ARU, but while they can't stand on their own two feet financially, there is a reluctance to admit it was a mistake to try to establish rugby in Western Australia.

There is a wild card prospect that an alternative would be to cut the Brumbies given their proximity to Sydney. While they have enjoyed ample Super Rugby success over the years, the Brumbies were cobbled together originally from leftovers from Queensland and New South Wales and in recent times, they have also been beset with money troubles.

Whatever the outcome, tension is likely. There will be disaffected parties that won't like what is being forced upon them. "Following two days of robust discussion there are a number of tournament considerations that now require further discussion and consultation," Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos said.

"This includes final consultation within the national unions and discussion with key stakeholders that would allow the adoption of changes proposed by the strategic plan.

"Sanzaar will make a formal statement on the future of the organisation, Super Rugby and the tournament format in the coming days once these further meetings have been concluded."

Sanzaar's member unions were in London to discuss both the short and longer term future of Super Rugby.

Last year Sanzaar commissioned a consultancy firm to blueprint what the competition could look like in 10 years. They were also asked to see if there should be changes made to the existing format before the end of the current five-year broadcast deal that is in its second year.

Certainly New Zealand is in favour of making changes to the 2018 format - believing the current set up is not fair in regards to the pathway teams have to the playoffs.

- NZ Herald

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