The rugby season is about to get even longer, with Super Rugby likely to start earlier in February to accommodate Australia's three-test British and Irish Lions tour.
To ensure there is enough time for the nine-match Lions tour and the expanded Super Rugby tournament, Australia will lobby SANZAR to start next year's provincial competition at least a week earlier on probably February 16.
If approved, the first round would involve just the Australian teams playing in local derbies, while the South African and New Zealand provincial sides would start their Super Rugby campaign the following week. As there are five Australian provinces, one local side would get a first-round bye.
Australian Rugby Union chief executive and SANZAR delegate John O'Neill said yesterday the final Super Rugby draw was ''still a work in progress''.
''It is unambiguously challenging to accommodate the Lions tour. South Africa and New Zealand have to come along with agreement to some compromises. We're nearly there. In four years time, New Zealand will be in our shoes. So we've all got to give a bit every four years, and I'm sure our SANZAR partners will be willing to compromise.''
O'Neill was speaking at a function where the official logo for the Lions tour, ticket prices for matches and on-sale dates were announced. The Lions, involved in only their third visit to Australia in 24 years and the first since 2001, will play the Wallabies in Brisbane on June 22, Melbourne (June 29) and Sydney (July 6).
The tourists will also play the Force, Reds, a combined NSW-Queensland Country line-up, Waratahs, Brumbies and Rebels. Due to already high demand for tickets, marketing for the tour will begin as early as November this year.
While the Australian provinces who have Lions matches in the early sector of the tour, such as the Force and Reds, are expected to have their Test stars, those playing closer to the internationals are likely to miss out.
Asked if Wallabies would be withdrawn from provincial matches, O'Neill said: ''Clearly the closer you get to the Test matches, the less likely [it is that] Wallaby players will be involved.
''But with the earlier games, it is easier to allow the Wallabies to play for their provinces. It's a question of managing the Wallaby squad, because the No 1 objective of this tour is similar to the World Cup in 2003, when the ARU had to put to our board what was the objectives.
''Our No 1 objective was to win the World Cup, and the No.2 objective was to host the best ever World Cup,'' O'Neill said.
''The objective we have set for next year is to win the Tom Richards trophy. So whatever it takes, and whatever [Wallabies coach] Robbie Deans needs, that will be provided.
''But I wouldn't necessarily follow the path of what happened in South Africa in 2009, when they didn't allow any Springboks to play in any of the provincial games with the Lions.''
Deans admitted it will be difficult beating the Lions, who will be involved in a long list of lead-up matches before the first Test.
''We won't have the luxury of a game to prepare but we have to ensure we have a preparation,'' Deans said.
''There's no doubt they're [the Lions] in the box seat. They'll come together with a singular focus, and will probably have several fixtures before they arrive here, and then have two Saturday fixtures prior to the First Test. They've got a great run-in. We've got to ensure we don't compromise ourselves.''
Meanwhile, Waratahs centre Tom Carter yesterday ended uncertainty over his playing future by re-signing with the Super Rugby franchise on a one-year deal.
''After the season we've had, to remain a Waratah and earn the chance to right the wrongs and give our fans something to be proud of, that was one of the biggest factors on my mind,'' Carter said.
''This team means so much to me. I've always wanted to be a one-club player.''
- FFX Aus
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