Super-sized competition likely to include Japan
Japan's recent test against the All Blacks may result in a bonanza for Asian rugby as Super Rugby's vexing proposed restructure is again scrutinised in London this weekend.
Sanzar boss Greg Peters will be urging the three existing partners to compromise - South Africa may be asked to make more sacrifices than New Zealand and Australia - as they again debate how to revamp the competition before the broadcasting deal ends in late 2015.
One thing appears certain: the competition will be extended to 18 teams, with South African guaranteed to have six sides, along with another from Argentina, and, possibly, a team from Japan.
The recent test against the All Blacks, when Japan lost 54-6 after trailing just 7-6 after 26 minutes, was played in front of 26,000 fans and may have impressed some powerful commercial operators in Tokyo.
Japan will host the 2019 World Cup, which may also convince the Sanzar partners to swing a decision in their favour.
"They want their national team to perform pretty well in 2019," Peters acknowledged. "So the higher standard of rugby their players can play leading up that time - it has some strategic sense to involve them in a professional competition where they are playing against the best players in the world."
There is potential for New Zealand and Australia to have a sixth team but the Japanese option may be looked upon most favourably because they offer a door into the lucrative Far East market.
"Asia is an opportunity for, particularly the Australasian teams, to unlock commercial revenue that hasn't been previously available to them, as well as having those teams provide a different dynamic," Peters explained.
Japan's good fortune would be bad news for the potential for a Pacific Island-based consortium to operate from Auckland.
Peters said an Island team could be considered a sixth New Zealand side if a backer could be found but this seems a long shot.
Given the recent comments from South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins, who dismissed Sanzar's suggestion that a two-conference model be promoted, some harsh dialogue may feature when the Sanzar heavyweights gather in London.
"I can't see the idea of having an Australasian conference and an African conference," a bullish Hoskins said last month.
By uttering these comments in public Hoskins has deliberately put the heat on Sanzar.
SARU, who don't want a competition stacked with local derbies because they believe they already get that with their domestic Currie Cup competition, are likely to prefer a three-conference structure.
Urging Hoskins to ditch this viewpoint will be a priority for Peters, who acknowledges it is unlikely a final solution will be hammered out this week.
"Sanzar is like a marriage. It will come down to, now, how much each of the individual unions is prepared to compromise their own - and in some cases strong - principals for the collective good of arriving at a solution that will work for all three countries."
Sanzar are hoping to have a reveal the new rejigged format, which will contain 18 teams, to the broadcasters by Christmas, though Peters explained there was potential for that deadline to be extended.
"It's not panic stations by any stretch because we still have a competition structure that will last another two years."
- © Fairfax NZ News
Which two NZ teams look the most likely to make the Super Rugby playoffs?