The Super Rugby battle lines have been drawn. Organisers Sanzaar have decided three teams will be cut from the competition and have left it up to the Australian and South African rugby unions to decide who they will be, but trouble is brewing in the form of potential legal action.

And, despite the guarantee that all five New Zealand franchises will continue as normal, it is understood many of their players aren't happy with a return to the inter-conference warfare which will see the Kiwi teams play each other home and away from next season onwards.

They feel it is a return to the days of the former Super 15 competition, run between 2011 and 2015, which saw all the New Zealand sides knock lumps out of each other in games that were wildly popular with supporters here and abroad but not so much for the players themselves.

A priority for them two years ago as the competition went through yet another restructure was to lessen the number of times they had to play each other, and the result was a formula whereby they played six games against teams in their own conference.


For instance, this season the Blues play the Crusaders and Hurricanes once, and the Chiefs and Hurricanes twice - a format seen by the players involved as a fairer one, albeit still brutal in terms of physicality.

Another of their victories was to secure a 12-week off season, but next season's competition is slated to start a week earlier, throwing into question the availability of the top All Blacks to play from the start as they have over the last couple of seasons.

Now they have been presented by Sanzaar with a return to a tougher schedule they won't be happy, and there will be empathy too for what approximately 100 of their Australian and South African colleagues are going through.

Either the Force or the Rebels will get the chop in Australia and Force captain Matt Hodgson was close to tears after his team's win over the Kings, another very vulnerable team, when he said: "You don't know where to put your kid now. Do I put him into rugby... or stay here in Western Australia and play AFL?"

The Kings and Cheetahs are favourites for the axe in South Africa and while the union are understood to be realistic about the need to go from six to four teams, it remains to be seen how relaxed the South African government will be about losing a Kings team who play their home games at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

But the administrators feeling the most heat will be those of the ARU, an outfit described in a message to the Herald by a New Zealand rugby personality today as a "laughing stock".

Both the Force and Rebels are said to be seeking legal action as they fight the axe. Neither wants to go quietly, and both probably have a good case to stay in terms of the ARU's vision of growing the game in Australia.

The Force have had their financial struggles and were bailed out by the ARU, but have re-found their feet and in fact have recently signed new sponsors as they look to strengthen their position in the far west. The Rebels, meanwhile, are seen as an important bulwark in
Melbourne against the other football codes.

This saga is far from over yet.