SA won't be out of Super 14, says rugby chief

The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) will not back a proposed replacement competition for the Super 14 rugby that excludes South Africa.

That was made clear in no uncertain terms by the NZRU’s general manager of professional rugby, Neil Sorenson, who on Tuesday said that such a restructure would be at odds with the union’s preferred position at the moment.

According to the Wellington newspaper the Dominion Post, representatives from provincial teams North Harbour, Wellington, Canterbury, Auckland, Waikato, Otago, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki and Southland have been meeting in recent weeks over a restructure and realignment of southern-hemisphere and New Zealand domestic rugby.

They are exploring a “new direction because they felt that the Super 14 competition had reached its use-by date”, the Post said.

The newspaper reported that the abovementioned unions want to replace Super 14 with a trans-Tasman home-and-away competition involving nine New Zealand teams and five from Australia—excluding South Africa altogether. This would mean doing away with New Zealand’s premier domestic competition, the Air NZ Cup.

The “breakaway faction” also want a European-style tournament of 24 teams in four pools of six playing matches every four weeks.
It is proposed that this competition would include teams from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, the Pacific Islands and the United States.

Sanzar’s Super 14 and Tri-Nations contract with News Limited does not end until 2011, but the report said that this date would have to be brought forward in order to have the new competitions up and running in 2010.

But Sorenson poured cold water on the idea. “Sanzar’s current position is that it is a very much a three-country expansion of Super rugby with South Africa involved. The trans-Tasman idea does not include South Africa and that is absolutely not the NZRU’s preferred position at the moment,” he was quoted as saying in the Dominion.

“At this stage Sanzar are unified in New Zealand, Australia and South African teams being involved in Super rugby and Tri-Nations going forward,” he said.

“There can be no break-up of Sanzar, absolutely not. Sanzar needs to remain very, very strong, particularly in today’s rugby environment, which is very trying.”

Sorenson said the NZRU has had many options “thrown at us” from various groups and individuals. “This one has been mooted before ... we have been over some of these ideas over the last few weeks.”

The NZRU has been invited to attend a meeting on Friday but Sorenson was unsure if it will be about the reported new competitions.

Meanwhile, the NZRU’s “final draft decision” on the future of the Air NZ Cup championship is due out on Wednesday. Unions have until September 5 to give their feedback and the NZRU board will ratify and produce a final decision on September 25, Sorenson said.—Sapa

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