More SA teams for PRO 14?
Despite assurances from South Africa‚ New Zealand‚ Australia and Argentina Rugby (Sanzaar) chief executive Andy Marinos that SA won’t abandon Super Rugby‚ it is likely that three more local sides will join PRO 14.
Marinos was reacting to a story in Wales Online that suggested the Sharks could join PRO 14 as early as the 2019/2020 season‚ with more SA teams joining the following season.
There is some truth to the story from Wales but SA’s new PRO 14 participants are likely to be the Pumas and Griquas‚ who were last year afforded ‘preferred candidate’ status by SA Rugby.
They are effectively SA’s seventh and eighth franchises and could play in PRO 14 from next year.
Sources at SA Rugby though‚ indicated that nothing is cast in stone when the current Sanzaar deal expires in 2020 and that another of the existing franchises could also head north.
A new round of Sanzaar broadcast rights talks begins next April and SA has a strong bargaining chip.
Threatening to withdraw more teams from Super Rugby in favour of the ambitious PRO 14‚ which secured a lucrative new TV deal last month‚ puts SA in a formidable position.
Last year SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said that SA would never abandon Sanzaar.
"We are contracted to Sanzaar until the end of 2020 and will be going into a negotiating period again in the next two years‚" Roux said at the launch of the Cheetahs and Kings into PRO 14.
"We have benefited greatly from the rivalry against Australia and New Zealand and a further relationship is likely to continue to be of great benefit to South African rugby. But joining the PRO14 expands our horizons.
"Not play in the southern hemisphere competition is unthinkable. We would suffer financial harm."
Times Online understands that Super Rugby could further be scaled back with the removal of Japan’s Sunwolves and possibly one more SA team‚ which would then join PRO 14.
At this stage though‚ Super Rugby is still studying a host of possible scenarios and nothing is decided as it does a more thorough due diligence assessment following the 18-team Super Rugby format disaster.
Marinos was bullish about the Sanzaar alliance remaining strong after a review of its future until 2030 recently took place.
“As part of this process‚ the member unions have fully committed to the strategy and their future participation‚” Marinos said in a statement.
“Any talk of a change to the stakeholder relationship and partners withdrawing‚ creation of new teams in new markets and trans-Tasman competitions is unsubstantiated speculation and simply wrong.
“This 12-year strategy is designed to address the challenges facing our game and to clearly articulate Sanzaar’s vision and purpose in terms of a sustainable future.
“The desired outcome is the delivery of competitive‚ innovative‚ engaging and financially sustainable competitions to ensure the continued success of the member unions and the Super Rugby clubs/franchises.
“Everything has been on the table – status quo‚ expansion‚ contraction‚ competition formats‚ etc – as part of our initial blue-sky thinking.
"We basically started with a blank piece of paper and now we are doing the detailed analysis on what is viable‚ sustainable and best for our competitions.
“There is an incredible amount of detailed work taking place in this review and we have specialist groups working across all aspects of the review.
"Therefore it is very disappointing that various aspects of the initial work in terms of potential tournament formats been taken out of context and aired in public.
“Potential expansion into new market‚ for example‚ should not be confused with only an increase in teams.
"We are already in the process of taking the established product to new markets. Matches being played in Singapore‚ Hong Kong‚ Fiji and Samoa are examples of this.
“We are especially mindful at present that we have just come out of a process that has seen a contraction of Super Rugby. The introduction of new teams or any form of expansion would need to meet a defined set of criteria that have been established.”