Australia tests New Zealand rugby's patience with Super Rugby shambles

The Australian Rugby Union's leadership has caused major ructions within Sanzaar.
SCOTT BARBOUR/GETTY IMAGES

The Australian Rugby Union's leadership has caused major ructions within Sanzaar.

The Australian Rugby Union is fast becoming Sanzaar's crippling presence and patience is being tested in New Zealand.

Joint ventures are only as strong as their weakest link and, as the walls close in on the ARU, Super Rugby continues to be buckled at the knees.

The crisis started at the Sanzaar meeting in London in early March, when the ARU agreed to cull one side as part of a consensus to form a 15-team competition next year.

Melbourne Rebels owner Andrew Cox could receive $9 million from the ARU in exchange for axing the team.
MICHAEL DODGE/GETTY IMAGES

Melbourne Rebels owner Andrew Cox could receive $9 million from the ARU in exchange for axing the team.

While South Africa, who agreed to axe two sides, arrived back from that London meeting and undertook a proper process, the ARU held a board meeting and suddenly announced the Rebels or Force were on the chopping block. In-fighting and legal threats began immediately.

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Since then the ARU has lurched from one disaster to another, leaving its three partners - New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina - in limbo.  

"If you are going to give an undertaking to reduce teams surely you have worked out how and who and everyone is on board prior to making that agreement," NZ Rugby Players' Association boss Rob Nichol said.  

"The legacy of Super Rugby; the teams, the players, the fans don't deserve this. It's not right, and it's not a fair reflection of the role this competition has played in the southern hemisphere for a very long time."

NZ Rugby boss Steve Tew was reluctant to comment when pressed on Australia's volatile landscape.

"Australia and South Africa are committed to what they agreed in London and they are working towards it," Tew said.

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"My job is to worry about the best interests of New Zealand Rugby. We are clearly monitoring what is going on in Australia and actively supporting them as much as we can but I'm not going to enter into commentary about degrees of concerns about what's going on in countries I do not have responsibility for.

"Viewership in New Zealand is up off a good solid base last year so we're in good shape. At the time we decided to consolidate, viewership in Australia and South Africa was concerning and that remains the case. That's one of the reasons we made this decision."

Sanzaar are now left with a situation where it seems the ARU cannot legally axe either the Rebels or Force - certainly not without a fight. There were hopes that Christchurch-born Rebels owner Andrew Cox would sell the licence to run the club to the ARU but they now appear to be dashed. Cox said on Friday he had rejected an ARU offer.

While the ARU remain confident of following through on its agreement to cull one team, another source close to the situation said Sanzaar powerbrokers were increasingly sceptical.

As Wallabies coach Michael Cheika alluded to this week, Super Rugby could well be left with the shambolic 18-team status quo next season, which means South Africa's plans to cut two teams will be scrapped. All because Australia cannot sort out its backyard.

The situation could barely be worse. Broadcasters have agreed to a 15-team competition, but may instead be asked to suck up the current format.

"We're using time up. I don't think we're running out of time yet," Tew said. "Sanzaar management are carrying on with business as usual in regards to preparing draws for a variety of scenarios. We're not sitting on our hands.

"It becomes very difficult for venues to be secured and bookings made on airplanes much past September. That's the date people are talking about being a logistical problem but we'd be hopeful we'd get through this well inside that problem date."

Eighteen months ago, when four southern hemisphere teams made the World Cup semi finals, no one predicted the rapid deterioration from Australia and South Africa.

The gap emerged last year, and has now grown to a glaring gulf.

Hundreds of elite players have flooded out of South Africa and its credit rating has been downgraded to junk. In Australia, their player and commercial base simply can't sustain five competitive teams long-term.    

With no resolution in sight, pressure from the ARU's partners, sponsors, players and broadcasters continues to ramp up.  

As Nichol points out, there will be no winners from this ugly scenario.

"Sanzaar has governed over a situation and process where no matter what happens from here people will always reflect sadly over how this has been dealt with."

 - Stuff

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