South Africa's increasing European focus is nothing new but the prospect of them walking away from Super Rugby altogether seems far-fetched, for now at least.

Sanzaar has been quick to shutdown suggestions from the north that three more South African teams will join the Pro14 from 2020. According to reports, the Sharks, Stormers and Lions will follow the Cheetahs' and Southern Kings' lead after becoming "disillusioned" with Super Rugby.

The validity of these reports must be questioned, though. Within the Sanzaar alliance, the belief is South Africa remains committed to retaining their four teams in Super Rugby beyond the next broadcasting deal which expires in 2020.

With the Cheetahs and Kings finding a home in the expanded Pro14, South Africa always intended to double its presence in Europe. That is, however, more likely to come from the promotion of the semi-professional Pumas, a South African team based in South Eastern Transvaal, and Griquas, who play in Kimberley.

Advertisement

After a tender process both teams were granted status as South Africa's seventh and eighth franchises late last year.

Furthermore, in an interview with the Herald last September, South African chief executive Jurie Roux clearly outlined the long-term vision for rugby in the Republic, stressing a continued focus on Super Rugby.

The plan was for South Africa to eventually have four teams in each hemisphere.

"We have four teams in Sanzaar; we have two in Pro14 and the other two will start to develop to play somewhere. Hopefully something like the Anglo-Welsh as a development tournament. At the right time in 2020 we can then make a decision on where our bases are," Roux told the Herald last year.

"We believe we are as strong as we are because we play Australia, Argentina and New Zealand. We measure ourselves by those teams even though the north is getting better. We are committed to Sanzaar beyond 2020."

Super Rugby cannot be considered in isolation, either. The Sanzaar alliance also includes the Rugby Championship.

Last year Roux appreciated the unlikely scenario of South Africa's franchises being based solely in Europe and the Springboks competing in the Rugby Championship.

"Why would Sanzaar allow us to pick the cherries and then leave all of our partners to fight for themselves? It's a pipedream for a lot of people. If I told [NZ Rugby boss] Steve Tew I'll see you for two months of the year and then I'll go pick the riches of the north it would be a very tough negotiation. Sanzaar would say go play in the Six Nations.

Advertisement

"That's a whole new conversation because we are only into the Celtic league at the moment. I don't see any of them allowing us in their competitions anytime soon so I don't think it's realistic."

Threats and rumours of South Africa moving north have frequently emerged over the past two decades.

Perhaps there is growing frustration with the long nature of tours – South Africa's four teams and Argentina's Jaguares make month-long ventures abroad compared with two weeks for New Zealand and Australian teams.

With broadcast negotiations looming, South Africa's option of moving north may garner leverage around the table and potentially lead to further format tweaks.

But talk of expansion into America is also understood to be premature, with Sanzaar weary of creating mismatches.

In a statement, Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos dimissed speculation about South Africa preparing to leave and also said future plans remained very much a work in progress.

"Any talk of a change to the stakeholder relationship and partners withdrawing, creation of new teams in new markets and trans-Tasman competitions is unsubstantiated speculation and simply wrong," Marinos said.

"Everything has been on the table – status quo, expansion, contraction, competition formats, etc - as part of our initial blue-sky thinking. We basically started with a blank piece of paper and now we are doing the detailed analysis on what is viable, sustainable and best for our competitions.

"There is an incredible amount of detailed work taking place in this review and we have specialist groups working across all aspects of the review. Therefore it is very disappointing that various aspects of the initial work in terms of potential tournament formats been taken out of context and aired in public.

"Potential expansion into new markets for example should not be confused with only an increase in teams. We are already in the process of taking the established product to new markets. Matches being played in Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji and Samoa are examples of this.

"We are especially mindful at present that we have just come out of a process that has seen a contraction of Super Rugby. The introduction of new teams or any form of expansion would need to meet a defined set of criteria that have been established."