Super Rugby axe could fall on Kings

New Zealand bosses behind move to cut number of teams

If New Zealand rugby bosses have their way the Southern Kings could be dumped out of Super Rugby next year in a revamped competition. This emerged after Sanzaar officials met in London at the weekend when the future of their much-maligned tournament was discussed.

It is now expected that Super Rugby’s future structure and format will be announced in the coming days.

There is strong belief that Super Rugby will change next year and an Australian team and maybe even two South African sides could be cut, after New Zealand argued strongly for a reduction to a 15-team competition.

Reports suggest the New Zealand Rugby Union went into the Sanzaar meeting with the strong position that Australia cut one team and South Africa cut two.

What could save the Kings and ensure their stay in the competition, is that any change to the competition requires a unanimous vote.

SA Rugby officials or Australian Rugby Union officials could have vetoed the New Zealand position, but it is not known if they did or not.

SA Rugby officials have remained silent and it is not clear whether they want to cut any teams.

“Following two days of robust discussion there are a number of tournament considerations that 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 once these meetings have been concluded.”

If the tournament is slashed to 15 teams, South Africa’s Kings and Cheetahs and one of Australia’s Western Force, Melbourne Rebels or ACT Brumbies are the franchises that could be axed.

This is a frustrating time for the Kings, who are now being bankrolled by the SA Rugby Union after a cash crisis hit the EP Rugby Union.

Insiders believe it is unlikely South Africa will give up two teams, given they pushed so hard to expand from five sides to six not long ago.

An 18-team model could still get the green light, with the idea being to introduce a three-conference system consisting of six teams apiece, with Japan joining five Australian teams and Argentina linking up with the five New Zealand outfits.

Sanzaar commissioned an independent review after Super Rugby’s expansion to 18 teams and division into three conferences last year generated widespread dissatisfaction from participating unions, fans and the media.

The expansion broke new markets with the addition of teams from Argentina and Japan, but also resulted in more lopsided matches and a muchcriticised playoffs system.

Media speculation in Australia has swirled around the viability of the Perth-based Western Force and Melbourne Rebels, which compete outside the country’s traditional rugby heartland and have never qualified for the playoffs.

Force coach David Wessels agreed the competition needed to be shaken up, but said cutting Australia’s teams was not the issue.

“It’s hard for fans to follow and I think it’s not equitable that not all teams play each other – that’s a funny competition,” he said.

“I think reshuffling the deckchairs with the number of teams would be very sad because I’m not sure we’ve addressed the root cause of the issue.” – Additional reporting Reuters

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