Rugby body unveils new-look Super 14

The Super 14 organisers unveiled a new format on Tuesday designed to perk up a southern hemisphere championship hit by dwindling interest.

Plans include having an extra team from 2011 in the annual competition between Australian, New Zealand and South African provincial franchises and putting more emphasis on fixtures between domestic rivals.

The current February-to-May season will extend to August with a three-week break during June for Test fixtures involving the Wallabies, All Blacks and Springboks.

But the most radical change comes in the format with the present system of each team playing the other 13 in a one-round mini-league and the top four entering the knockout phase ditched.

Instead each country will stage a ”national conference”, with the five teams playing each other home and away and the three group winners advancing to the second phase.

The table-topping trio will be joined by the three teams with the highest number of points irrespective of which conference they come from, raising the possibility that one country could provide four of the six survivors.

These ”wildcards” and the conference winner with the fewest points will play an elimination round with the two winners advancing to face the other conference winners in the semi-finals.

Although the extra team must compete in Australia, which has four Super 14 teams compared to the five of their rivals, a tender process to detemine who it will be is open to the three nations comprising the governing Sanzar body.

Australian officials have long backed an extra team from their country, while South Africa favour the Southern Kings, a new franchise comprising players from Eastern Cape, where there is a strong black participation in the sport.

Negotiators from the three countries welcomed the deal, which will be put to broadcast-rights holders News Corporation at the end of June and come into force the season after next.

”The new structure will enable us to embed Super rugby as the premier provincial competition in world rugby. This is an important and necessary evolution,” said Australian John O’Neill.

New Zealander Steve Tew referred to verbal mud-slinging between the three countries ahead of the deal when he said: ”Our preference was to maintain a three-country alliance and build it.”

”After intense negotiations we believe the outcome is good for rugby, for Sanzar, for players, for fans and for broadcasters,” said South African Andy Marinos.

Although the agreement was reached in Dublin last Thursday on the sidelines of an International Rugby Board gathering, details were not released until stakeholders had been informed. — Sapa-AFP

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