The backlash to Super Rugby expansion has begun, led by the coach of the defending two-time champion Chiefs.
After absorbing the limited detail released by Sanzar on Thursday night, coaches, players and fans yesterday reacted almost entirely negatively to the proposed 2016 expansion to include a team from Argentina and a sixth South African franchise.
But the most commanding voice among the chorus of criticism belonged to Dave Rennie.
In his first comments on the proposal, the Chiefs coach was forcefully opposed to the changes, citing fears for player welfare and major concerns that the integrity of the competition will be severely compromised.
Former All Blacks captain Taine Randell, ex-NZRU boss David Moffett and national players' association boss Rob Nichol were others to speak out yesterday.
Rennie clearly felt blindsided by the announcement, and that Kiwi Super Rugby coaches had been ignored.
"While we've been consulted I'm not sure we're being listened to," Rennie said.
He revealed that the Kiwi coaches' suggestion of a 14-game round-robin competition between the existing 15 teams - a format that would shorten the season by two weeks and increase the window before the NPC - appeared to have been shelved.
"The New Zealand coaches wanted a legitimate competition where everyone plays everyone," Rennie said.
"All the other scenarios include more teams, more travel and more time away from home."
Rennie felt Sanzar's proposal was compromised by politics.
"Another South African side may generate more money but is it in the best interests of our players and the competition?" he asked. "I'm not sure how the public will take to their proposed format. Some of the punters would find that hard to follow."
Rennie was also concerned about the competitiveness of an Argentinian team, feeling they could quickly join the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels as examples of overseas franchises that need propping up by South African and New Zealand players.
"I'm not sure where they're going to get their players from. Most of them play in Europe on big money," he said.
"The worry is if there's not the quality in Argentina maybe they'll start grabbing from New Zealand which further thins our pool."
In his column in the Sunday News, Randell described Sanzar's plans as "defying logic".
He felt South Africa's Super Rugby record did not justify an additional team and was bemused that the Pacific Island nations continued to be snubbed.
Moffett said Sanzar had bowed to political pressure and threats of a walkout to Europe from South Africa who seem destined to get a sixth franchise despite their teams finishing last 13 times in 18 years of Super Rugby.
The former boss of the National Rugby League, as well as Welsh and NZ rugby, labelled the expansion to a 17-team competition as "insanity".
Moffett said that in promoting "quantity over quality", Sanzar risked turning fans off.
"It's absolute insanity. People will get fed up. The quality of rugby will just go down further," said Moffett, now based in Europe and currently seeking chairmanship of the Wales RFU.
"The extra South African team is purely political. There certainly aren't enough quality players in South Africa for six professional teams, especially with the policy of allowing players to be picked for the Springboks from overseas.
"It is not Sanzar's role to develop the game outside their own territories.
"The next thing you'll find is Canada, the United States and Japan will be included.
"They can talk about conferences as much as they like. The average person in New Zealand won't get up to watch Argentinians playing South Africans. They're just not interested."
Nichol was concerned about several areas, including Argentina's competitiveness.
Sanzar has been silent since Thursday night. It's understood its favoured option is for the competition to be split into eastern and western conferences with two cross-over games.
NZRU boss Steve Tew would only comment that it was easier to criticise than find a solution. The NZRU will vote on the expansion proposal at a board meeting in Wellington this Thursday.
- Sunday Star Times
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