Steve Tew hits back at Super Rugby criticism

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 13:37 28/02/2014
Steve Tew
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STOP IT! New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew has hit back at criticism of Super Rugby's soon to be announced expansion.

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New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew has hit back at criticism of Super Rugby's soon to be announced expansion and new competition format.

Sanzar has been under fire since it was revealed last week a sixth team from South Africa and one from Argentina would be added to the competition from 2016.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie was among those to voice his concern that more teams and travel would be bad for player welfare. 

Tew was unable to share the finer details of the format Sanzar has agreed in principle to take to the broadcasters on June 30 as the respective boards of Australia and South Africa had not yet met.

However, he said today reports of a longer season with more travel were incorrect and that the final new format would see teams play one fewer match with the competition likely to start in March rather than February.

"The travel will be no worse than it is now and in fact if this is all agreed we will have one less week of Super Rugby, which we think is a win for New Zealand rugby," Tew said. "Starting a week later means we might start in March rather than February... Or we might take a week extra in June to allow players to recover and prepare for a test match."

Tew was surprised to hear stakeholders speak out against the proposed changes after an extensive consultation process that included coaches, players and administrators before being formally put before the NZ Rugby board yesterday.

"Even in New Zealand the wants among our own stakeholders are not straight-forward. And we are even seeing some people talking in the media now at odds with themselves and their own organisation."

He respected the fact that not everyone in New Zealand would share the same view on the way forward, but said the wider Sanzar picture needed to be taken into account.

"We don't want the season to be any longer and we don't want any more games than we are playing... interestingly, Australia would like it to be considerably longer and South Africa quite a bit shorter so there has to be some compromise."

Tew did confirm home and away local derbies would not take place on an annual basis, that the round robin would not see every team play each other and that it would be possible for two New Zealand teams to meet in the final.

"If you look at the historical evidence they [the New Zealand franchises] were banking more income when they had less games," he said. "And if you talk about the derbies being the big money spinners, well actually all they've done is move the money from other games into the derbies.

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"We question whether its a natural flow on that less games means less income. That's why we're comfortable we've landed with a structure that has one less week."

Tew explained the rationale behind adding an Argentinian franchise and allowing South Africa to have a sixth team out of Port Elizabeth.

"You go to the cornerstones of this. New Zealand Rugby has decided on balance that South Africa is important to us because of two reasons... firstly [broadcaster] SuperSport's Money is a significant portion of Sanzar's broadcast income.

"If we took the cost of South Africa out and netted it against the income we would be seriously worse off so from a financial point they are important. 

"But equally important anyone we talk to in coaching and high performance believe our young athletes need to play South African teams before they start playing test matches. So we think they are vitally important from a rugby perspective too."

South Africa's ultimatum had been for a sixth team from the East Cape and that their teams did not have to travel for five weeks.

While that placed constraints on the future model, the alternative was to call South Africa's bluff and watch them potentially go it alone, or move to Europe.

In the case of Argentina it was unanimously agreed it was vital to keep them in the Sanzar partnership.

"Yes they haven't won a game [in The Rugby Championship], but they have had their best players available. They have run the matches at a high level and they have sold their broadcasting and sponsorship. They already have a price on broadcasting for a Super Rugby team.

"And they are telling us if they can't bring the next generation of players away from Europe before they get there to play in a Super team, then they won't survive in the [Rugby] Championship."

Though the new format had effectively been agreed upon, it would not be finalised all parties had agreed on how the revenue would be split.

Meanwhile, NZ Rugby officials would head to the United states in the next fortnight to try and finalise a deal for the All Blacks to play on the East Coast of America next year.

It was preferable the match be played against the USA Eagles though a combined USA-Canada side was a possibility.

- Fairfax Media

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