Super 18 on the cards from 2016
August 8, 2013
SANZAR is committed to keeping Southern Kings in the competition © Getty Images
Super Rugby chiefs are seriously considering a significant re-vamp of the competition that will see the current the three-conference system split into two in 2016 and lead to the introduction of two teams from Argentina.
Australian and New Zealand sides will join together in their own conference while South Africa will combine with Argentina in a proposed Super 18 model. Governing body SANZAR are also committed to ensuring recently relegated Southern Kings will be one of six South African teams and leading officials also say there's the possibility of Japanese teams being added in three years' time, but there's plenty of work to be done.
SANZAR aims to finalise its next model by the end of the year, but officials have much to consider before deciding its preferred model. SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters said the timeframe for the competition - currently played over 21 weeks, including three weeks for play-offs - could not be extended, which makes it virtually impossible to keep the current structure if new teams are added as all three national unions want their derby matches to played home and away.
With the rigours of travel to and from South Africa combining to make player welfare a bigger issue, the simplest solution is to create a two-conference split. That would see the Australian and New Zealand teams each play their four derby rivals home and away and the five sides from the other country once for 13 matches before the conferences come together in a six- or eight-team finals series.
Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chief executive Bill Pulver, who is also on SANZAR's executive committee, said the union hadn't decided on its preferred model, but he stressed that five Australian teams would remain in the competition.
"We're trying to keep a very open mind to what this structure looks like," he said in Sydney. It's more likely two new Argentinian teams, rather than one, would be added to what would become an eight-team South African/American conference.
The heavy political pressure for South Africa to have six teams intensified with the Port Elizabeth-based Kings losing a tightly-fought two-match relegation play-off against the Johannesburg-based Lions.
"We really understand the desire for that from South Africa," Peters said. "The Kings have 32% of the playing population, and 72% of that is coloured. We understand the need for six teams in South Africa."
The inclusion of Japan before it hosts Rugby World Cup 2019 would generate massive commercial benefits, but there are logistical problems in fitting them into the Australasian conference.
SANZAR and the ARU are also pushing for the June international window to be moved to July to ensure Super Rugby can be played in one complete block instead of being interrupted for Test matches before the play-offs.
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