Talk of further expansion of Super rugby into an 18-team championship is on the button - but it is only talk and it won't happen without a heated and protracted debating process similar to that which has only just agreed to a 15-team tournament.
That is clearly evident as Andy Marinos, acting managing director of SA Rugby, spoke to Fairfax Media of the benefits of the new arrangement and hurdles to expanding beyond that.
The 24-week conference style Super 15 to be introduced in 2011 hasn't even had the ink put on the agreement form by Sanzar's broadcast partner News Ltd yet already there is talk out of Australia of adding two Japanese teams and a South African side in 2013.
After the drawn out process that New Zealand, Australia and South Africa went through to adding just one more team, it must surely be one step at a time.
That's Marinos' view. Here are the thoughts of South Africa's power-broker, the man who has stood up for his country against Australian rugby's wily administrator John O'Neill and NZRU chief executive Steve Tew.
Gosh Andy, it's been a massive process to get to a Super 15 and now there are suggestions of a Super 18. Is there any truth to this?
AM: We have certainly had those sorts of discussions at a working party level and at an executive level. But again, if we are going to have any further expansion to Super Rugby we have to make sure that it is good from a rugby perspective and that it can obviously wipe its own face.
You were very protective of your domestic season in the new arrangement. Wouldn't a Super 18 complicate that even further and be a stumbling block?
AM: We wouldn't be in favour of extending the season any longer. There's just no way we would ever contemplate eradicating or playing over the top of our Currie Cup. So I think where we are at the end of July or the first week of August at a push is the furtherest that we would ever move the competition.
Sounds like it mightn't be possible then?
AM: Not necessarily. But any further expansion of Super Rugby would have to be done in a vertical competition structure as opposed to horizontal structure. That would mean playing more games in a conference and then maybe just hook up with a top four in a playoffs series if we are going to go to 18 or 20 teams down the line.
Is it a case of learning to walk before we run then with these major expansions?
AM: Well, we now have a landscape of 15 teams and we need to try that out first. 2011 is a bit of an anomaly because of the World Cup and 2013 is also a bit disruptive because you have the Lions touring Australia. So out of the next cycle you are probably only going to have 2012 and 2014 as two pure years where we are going to see how the competition actually runs in its new format.
Speaking of the new format there still seems to be a lot of desire in South Africa to have that new15th team even though it is going to be based in the Australian conference. Surely a Super 18 would be more realistic for another South African team?
AM: A sixth team is a reality in South Africa and it has long been on the table with Sanzar that we need to produce and put forward another team out of here. But again, we have to balance that and make sure that we have the player quality and strength to support it. New Zealand and Australia will throw their hats in the ring in the expression of interest too. But again, that's a Sanzar decision that has to be made in the best interests of Sanzar and the best interests of rugby to make sure that we don't have a franchise that in a year's time will fall over because it can't sustain itself.
The Sanzar agreement on a Super 15 still has to get the blessing of your broadcaster. Do you think News Ltd will actually like it?
AM: I certainly think that if I was sitting from a broadcaster's perspective I would. We have increased the amount of games, put in the conference structure that has local derbies which all three countries are saying drives additional value because there is an appetite for more local matches. And then I think with an expanded playoffs series it adds another dimension because punters all over the world like finals rugby. Having quarter-finals, semis and a final is a good thing. Look at this year ... it would have been a very interesting top six play-off. I think the fact that you could have a team that finished sixth on the log winning the competition in a sudden death finals series is attractive.
The broadcaster provides the financial lifeline to the tournament. Much was made of the Super 12 and 14 agreements being weighed in your favour because your Currie Cup was also part of that. Is there an even revenue split now that you have taken the Currie Cup out of that?
AM: yes we have agreed on that. We have carved out our domestic product and sold that on. So now what we are actually bringing to the table is a pure Sanzar product. Therefore we will have an equal share in terms of cost and revenue in the new deal.
Will that mean more money for New Zealand and Australia?
Well it will be interesting to see what (offer) the broadcasters finally come up with. But it will give us a pure value on Super Rugby. It was always a mixed bag because we had always thrown in our domestic product. I think it will be a good reality check as to what the value of their (NZ and Australian) domestic product is. Fortunately we have already sold that and we have a real figure as to what that is sitting at.
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