Decision on the future of Super Rugby imminent
Change is coming to Super Rugby, but what that looks like remains unclear.
All we know for sure is Super Rugby's future will be decided in the coming days after Sanzaar meetings concluded in London.
Sanzaar executives - representatives from New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa and Australia - met this week and held "robust discussions" about whether to axe teams from the 18 side competition.
The fate of Japan's struggling Sunwolves is out of their hands as they are not a formal partner around the board table. But they are expected to survive on the basis of being a productive broadcast market.
Sanzaar released a statement on Saturday giving no firm indication of what the future holds, other than to say a direction would be soon be revealed.
"Following two days of robust discussion there are a number of tournament considerations that now require further discussion and consultation. This includes final consultation within the national unions and discussion with key stakeholders that would allow the adoption of changes proposed by the strategic plan," Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos said in the statement.
"Sanzaar will make a formal statement on the future of the organisation, Super Rugby and the tournament format in the coming days once these further meetings have been concluded."
New Zealand's preference is understood to be for a 15 team model that retains the Sunwolves and Agrentina's Jaguares, and involves South Africa dropping two sides. Changes, however, can only be made with unanimous agreement from all Sanzaar partners.
The Australian Rugby Union is thought to be open to dropping one team but choosing between the Perth-based Force and Melbourne Rebels would cause major ructions.
Another model being considered is a three conference system comprising six teams in each. That would probably see New Zealand grouped with the Jaguares; the Sunwolves join the five existing Australian teams, and feature 10 derby matches in each conference.
The broadcast agreement has been singed through to 2020 on the basis of 18 teams. Any tweaks, small or major, would need buy-in from the broadcasters who bankroll the competition.
Decisions have already been delayed by six months but there is a general acceptance the model as it stands is not working.
Even if a direction is given next week, New Zealand Rugby Players' Association boss Rob Nichol indicated the players would need more time to have their say.
"We've had some dialogue with New Zealand Rugby but none with Sanzaar and it seems they're not particularly interested in that," Nichol said. "It's frustrating to see where we are at but once we find out what decisions are being made we'll be spending the next three or four weeks talking with the players. Following that period of time we'll be in a much better position to work out where things need to go, and only time will tell whether that's aligned with New Zealand Rugby and Sanzaar."