SANZAR CEO Greg Peters has ruled out the possibility of expanding Super Rugby from 15 to 16 teams from next year after South Africa said that the Southern Kings will play in the tournament from 2013.
South African Rugby Officials announced last week that the Southern Kings would join Super Rugby but did not reveal how 16 Super Rugby teams could fit into a 15 team format.
South Africa have five Super Rugby teams so if the Southern Kings are to be included one of the existing teams would have to be dropped instead of a complete overhaul of the format as they had proposed.
SANZAR revamped and extended the format for Super Rugby for five years starting last year and are locked into the current format as they have sold the format to their broadcast partners.
SANZAR Boss Peters says that the format cannot be changed until the 2016 Super Rugby season.
“Sanzar has sold the current structure of Super rugby to broadcasters and commercial partners for the period ending December 31 2015, so until that time expansion of the competition is not possible,” Peters told SportLive.
The South African Rugby Union general council unanimously voted last week for the Southern Kings to be included in Super rugby from 2013 but they could not agree to simply drop the lowest finishing South African team so they have deferred the decision until their next council meeting on March 30.
However even though the rights have been sold for hundreds of millions of dollars SARU deputy president Mark Alexander, who is one of South Africa’s two representatives on the Sanzar board has dismissed Peters’ statement.
“We still have to meet with our partners in Sanzar. Greg Peters cannot decide there won’t be any expansion of the tournament,” said Alexander.
“That was an irresponsible statement to make. There is a window of opportunity with our partners in Sanzar.”
“We are currently preparing a 16-team schedule so that we can go and debate with them.
“Our relationship with Sanzar has improved tremendously. We are very close to our partners in Australia and we work very closely with New Zealand and our relationship has changed.
“There is a window of opportunity provided we sell a workable solution about 16 franchises playing in the competition.”
South Africa want to propose a 16 team format that would resemble the old format used in the Super 14 and does away with the extra play off week and reduce the number of matches.
It is highly unlikely that broadcasters would agree to accept fewer matches after they increased the value of the broadcast deal in line with the number of increased matches.
The Australian Rugby Union are also unlikely to agree on another format change to accomodate a South African team as they now have a full calendar of rugby for the first time in their history.
As matters stand now if the Kings are to be included one of the five existing South African franchises – the Bulls, Cheetahs, Lions, Sharks or the Stormers – will simply have to drop out next season.
The problem is that the SARugby General council will only meet five weeks into this season’s Super Rugby tournament so the five South African teams will start their campaign not knowing how they will have to qualify to be included in next year’s tournament.
“I warned the unions about this, but ultimately the decision to defer the matter until March 30 was theirs and they have to live with the outcome,” said Saru CEO Jurie Roux.