The Southern Kings’ deletion from Super Rugby appeared to move a step closer when the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) confirmed they would be scrapping one of their teams.
Either Perth’s Western Force or the Melbourne Rebels will be cut from next year’s Super Rugby competition, which is returning to 15 teams after expanding to 18. At one stage, there was speculation that Sanzaar might be forced to stick with an 18-team format after the decision to cut an Australian franchise became bogged down in legal wrangling.
However, the decision by the ARU to press on with moves to cut a team would appear to have signalled the end of the survival hopes of the two South African teams facing the axe.
ARU chairman Cameron Clyne could not provide clarity on when the decision would be made.
“We ’ve always said we’d like to bring it to resolution as quickly as possible, but we don’t control that timing,” he said.
“When you’re making a difficult change, I accept there is criticism that it’s taken time. “Had I come out on April 10 and said we’re going to exit a team and it’s going to take four months, there would have been equal criticism coming back.”
The meeting was called by the Victorian Rugby Union and the Rugby Union Players’ Association, who both want answers on how the ARU is going to proceed with its plan to cut a team. Australia’s Super Rugby teams have also had a tough season on the pitch, with none of them managing to beat New Zealand opposition so far this year.
SA Rugby has said it will confirm the four South African entrants to a revised Super Rugby competition from next year in Cape Town on July 7. Because of the delay, there has been widespread speculation that the Kings and the Cheetahs have already been cut and that they will compete in an enlarged European Pro12.
Most of the Kings players are contracted only for Super Rugby and, after the last game against the Cheetahs on July 14, many will be facing an uncertain future. After the break for the international window, the Kings will complete their Super Rugby programme with matches against the Jaguares, Bulls and Cheetahs. Sanzaar said the Super Rugby tournament had been restructured and would kick off with a three conference and a 15-team format.
There will be five teams from New Zealand, four from Australia, four from South Africa, one from Japan and one from Argentina. The change sees an overall reduction of three teams from the 18-team format, two from South Africa and one from Australia. The Sunwolves will move into the Australian Conference.