SA Super rugby blow
South Africa's chances of successfully lobbying for a sixth team in Super rugby from 2013 were dealt a severe blow by Sanzar CEO Greg Peters yesterday.
"Sanzar has sold the current structure of Super rugby to broadcasters and commercial partners for the period ending December 31 2015, so until that time expansion of the competition is not possible," Peters said.
This means the earliest South Africa could possibly introduce an extra team into the already congested tournament is from 2016.
At last week's South African Rugby Union general council meeting in Cape Town, all 14 unions voted unanimously for the Southern Kings to be included in Super rugby from 2013.
Under the current structure, the Kings' inclusion would require that one of the five existing South African franchises - the Bulls, Cheetahs, Lions, Sharks or the Stormers - drop out next season.
But the council failed to reach consensus on a mechanism to relegate a team. Instead of accepting the proposal put forward that the bottom team in 2012 would drop out to make way for the Kings, in time-honoured rugby fashion the decision was deferred until the next council meeting on March 30. Saru will now lobby its partners at Sanzar to expand the competition to 16 teams from next year.
Saru deputy president Mark Alexander, who is one of South Africa's two representatives on the Sanzar board, dismissed Peters' assertion.
"We still have to meet with our partners in Sanzar. Greg Peters cannot decide there won't be any expansion of the tournament. That was an irresponsible statement to make. There is a window of opportunity with our partners in Sanzar. We are currently preparing a 16-team schedule so that we can go and debate with them.
"Our relationship with Sanzar has improved tremendously. We are very close to our partners in Australia and we work very closely with New Zealand and our relationship has changed.
"There is a window of opportunity provided we sell a workable solution about 16 franchises playing in the competition."
Peters said that, because of the existing broadcast deal, it would be impossible to expand the tournament to accommodate an extra team.
But South African broadcaster Supersport, which pays the largest percentage of the broadcast rights to Sanzar, has not ruled out the possibility of adding an extra team as early as 2013.
"Supersport has a close working relationship with Saru and we will be guided by them on this matter," Supersport spokesman Clinton van der Berg said.
"We are not prescriptive towards Saru and in principle we would support the expansion if that is the route they choose to go."
If Saru's bid for an extra team fails, the general council will have to make a decision about who drops out next season and how it happens.
By the end of March, the 2012 tournament will be five weeks old. It would have been better to resolve this matter before this year's Super 15 tournament kicks off.
"I warned the unions about this, but ultimately the decision to defer the matter until March 30 was theirs and they have to live with the outcome," said Saru CEO Jurie Roux.