South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux has joined his Australian counterparts in warning New Zealand Rugby over any plans to form a new Super Rugby competition without them.
New Zealand and Australia are currently wrangling over the makeup of a new competition, but traditional foes South Africa – who were already eyeing up the European competitions - appear to have been sidelined from talks.
New Zealand may also push for limited Australian involvement in a possible eight-team competition, although there is a big move for a Pasifika team to be formed. The Aussies are threatening to go it alone if New Zealand takes its snub too far.
Roux said overnight that New Zealand Rugby could face legal action if they broke the current agreement.
"If anybody kicked anyone out of Super Rugby, it was New Zealand kicking themselves out," Roux said.
"New Zealand has every right to determine their future but in terms of Sanzaar and the joint venture agreement, there is a very legal agreement in place and you've got to act within that legal agreement.
"The unbundling of Super Rugby can only be a Sanzaar executive decision. Somebody else might make a unilateral decision that forces (a split) but they put themselves at risk of a legal liability by the people who are still part of the joint venture."
Highlanders hooker and Māori All Blacks captain Ash Dixon expressed his disappointment over New Zealand's potential split with South Africa.
Dixon told Gold AM's Country Sport Breakfast: "I'd love to see the Africans still there. I think it's a huge part of the rivalry between New Zealand and South Africa.
"Especially as a young fella who has toured there…it's a great way to get a lot of gratitude…the way they live their lives and the way we do is completely different.
"Obviously it is not an easy place to win – I'd love to see the Africans still there."
Roux also said the Springboks are pinning their hopes to a Rugby Championship hosted in New Zealand as the only opportunity for tests this year.
After a slow start, South Africa's been ravaged by Covid-19 since May, with no sport being played and leading players only now allowed back to train in groups of five.
Roux said the world champions won't play at home this season.
"We are not planning on hosting any international games in South Africa this year. That's the system we're currently working with. Our best chance of play is either within New Zealand and if that doesn't materialise within the Rugby Championship, a second option is us going north and possibly playing test matches."
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson last week confirmed NZR is working with the Government to host the Rugby Championship through November and December, but playing Bledisloe Cup fixtures in Australia remains up for discussion.
Sanzaar announced that the four-team Rugby Championship would be held in New Zealand later this year, provided the Government approve travel exemptions and quarantine measures, and the Covid-19 situation here does not deteriorate.
Robinson suggested New Zealand hosting a six-week Rugby Championship from early November to mid-December was feasible and that all four nations were on board.
"It's very positive news for rugby in New Zealand. It's a significant opportunity for the game here and the entire country which we're excited about and eager to begin work with the Government to see what we can make happen," Robinson said.
"Our thoughts go out to our joint venture countries in South Africa, Argentina and Australia about the challenges they're working through and if we are to get this tournament off the ground in New Zealand the great lengths they'll have to go to with their players and families and administrators to make this happen."