A decision on the future of n Super Rugby clubs could linger on for another two weeks after a meeting between club chief executives and the n Rugby Union provided little clarity. The ARU spoke with chief executives of all five Super Rugby teams on Tuesday but did little to allay fears a franchise will be cut following a report from South Africa suggesting the competition would be reduced from 18 to 16 teams.
There has been no official word out of the ARU or SANZAAR as to whether a team will be cut, however it is understood the meeting was simply consultation between chief executives and the ARU.
“There’s nothing unfortunately to say, that’s just the reality,” Western Force chief executive Mark Sinderberry told Fairfax Media.
It is understood there is still a fair way to go before SANZAAR pulls the trigger on its plans for the 2018 season.
Chief executives went into the conference call wanting answers on where their club stood but weren’t given anything more than reassurance they would be informed and kept in the loop.
On a day when certainty was sought, speculation has become even more rife after a report out of South Africa quoted Free State Cheetahs boss Harold Verster saying he had heard Super Rugby would be reduced to a 16-team competition.
In the wake of speculation the Cheetahs, Kings and an n team would be punted – given New Zealand went into the SANZAAR meeting with a 15-team preference – Verster spoke confidently that his franchise would be safe from the chopping block.
“All I can say is that we are safe. I keep my ear to the ground,” Verster told Netwerk24. “There is much discussion about the current series and the format and two teams of South Africa will fall out and a team of .
“There was even speculation that we would return to a Super 12, but my information is that we are going to be reduced from the current 18 to 16 teams, which means the Cheetahs are safe.”
Verster may well be correct but Fairfax Media understands no such decision had been communicated on Tuesday.
And South Africa may well represent the wild card in negotiations, with some reservations over whether SARU, a Union that operates across a complicated political landscape, would sign off on a reduction of teams in a nation where the code remains highly popular.
The Queensland Reds are one team assured of a place in any competition and had no comment when contacted on Tuesday, deferring their stance to the ARU, who also declined to comment.
Either a 15-team model or a 18-team model was seen as the two most workable solutions but if these reports are true that a 16-team proposal will get the green light, the make-up of the competition could be equally as confusing.
“Until such a time as a definite decision is announced, such speculation and uncertainty will continue,” said RUPA chief executive Ross Xenos. “A 16-team model was not favoured in advance of the Ex-co meetings and raising it now is the most recent example of very inconsistent rumours across each nation.”
While 16 teams would appear to divide equally into four conferences, this is not possible because there are five New Zealand teams who are in no danger of being cut.
16 teams would create the potential for a competition-wide round robin, with each team playing each other once.
However, such an option is very expensive from a travel perspective and would reduce the number of n home derbies.
It would also create the potential for longer tours which creates a lack of local content.
There is confusion about how a round-robin style competition would work and how conferences would be split up to ensure broadcasters are guaranteed a quarter-final match in their respective countries.
Waratahs captain Michael Hooper threw his support behind five n teams on Tuesday and implored the ARU to keep the his former club the Brumbies in Super Rugby.
“I think can have five teams in the competition,” Hooper said. “We want guys having as much chance to wear a Wallabies jersey as possible so I’m all in favour of having five teams.
“From being a part of the club, it has a rich history and people are very passionate about our Capital Territory having a team, so I’m not sure what going to happen but the Brumbies is a strong club and one that you would like to see continue in the comp.”