Super Rugby is poised to move forward with a four-conference model in 2016 – with two based in South Africa.
Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver has revealed the announcement of an expanded and restructured model to take to broadcasters is only a fortnight away.
On the eve of an important meeting with provincial chief executives, Pulver has backed a Super 18 model for 2016 where Australian and New Zealand conferences would remain the same.
Australia’s five teams would play two less “local derby” matches in a 15-game regular season but would strengthen their Anzac ties by increasing their four matches against Kiwi rivals to five.
Significant changes will be made in South Africa with their six teams, including the recalled Southern Kings, put in two pools with a new Argentine team and a final side, which the ARU hopes will be based in the Asian market.
Those two four-team conferences – including an overseas expansion team in each – will only face one of the two Australasian conferences each year, which reduces fears of an increase in travel.
“It’s likely to be a four-conference model and this will be finalised in the next couple of weeks to be announced,” Pulver said.
While the ARU chief executive is supporting SANZAR’s in-principle expansion plans, they’re unlikely to be applauded by his provincial counterparts.
Pulver has been under pressure from the franchises and the players’ association to pull Australia out of South Africa-driven plans to increase Super Rugby from 15 teams to 17 or 18.
Political pressure for more black participation saw SARU demand the Port Elizabeth-based Kings, who were relegated last season, be reinstated for good.
With South Africa providing almost half of the broadcast revenue, governing body SANZAR has listened to their powerful voice, and New Zealand are opposed to breaking the partnership.
Plans for less local derbies in Australia – dropping from eight to six, and meaning one less home game every second year – has upset state officials who believe it will see them go bust.
Pulver said he understood the concerns but backed the proposed changes as the best model to improve the competition and importantly boost broadcasting revenue.
“I’m more than happy to go along with it,” he said. “I think it will be a terrific structure for the game.”
Queensland Rugby Union chief executive Jim Carmichael hoped Australian officials remained open-minded about expansion plans to ensure the best result for the cash-strapped code.
“We don’t have a preferred model, as yet. We have a preferred position, and that is not to prejudice Australian interests in the competition moving forward,” Carmichael said.
“I’m okay to come to the table and hear alternative views as long as we are able to review those and ensure it ultimately delivers for Australian rugby.”
While the Reds, NSW Waratahs and Brumbies are unhappy about the loss of derby matches, Pulver said less was more for the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force.
“In Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra they work very well,” he said. “In Melbourne and Perth those two franchises aren’t too excited in home derbies.”
Original story on Sydney Morning Herald