Super 14 to expand to 18?

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The Independent Online

SANZAR officials on Friday described a proposal to expand the Super 14 playoffs to six teams from next season as the first step towards growing the competition and making it the best in world rugby.

The Super 14 at present follows a league format with the top four reaching the semi-finals. Under Friday’s proposal from the South African, New Zealand and Australian rugby boards (SANZAR) the top six would be involved in the playoffs over three weeks.

SANZAR, an amalgamation of the three national boards, runs both the Super 14 and Tri-nations competitions.

“We recognise that our product needs a giant leap forward and the expansion of the playoff series is the first concrete step in that evolution,” Jonathan Stones, managing director of SA Rugby, told a media conference in Perth.

“The expansion will happen in 2009 and thereafter we are aiming for much bigger leaps forward. We want to invigorate that leg of the competition and keep the interest going for as long as possible,” Stones said.

Steve Tew, chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Union, said SANZAR was trying to ensure the southern hemisphere’s best players remained in the Super 14 and Tri-nations competitions.

“We want the most commercially attractive competitions, so our ultimate goal is to retain the best talent.

“We cannot hide from the economic engines that French and English rugby have become and the best way to address that is by having the best competitions. The players want to play in the best competition against the best players,” Tew said.

SCHEDULE CHANGES

Stones said adding extra teams to the Super 14 and Tri-nations was a work in progress and would lead to “intensive changes” in the domestic and international schedules of the SANZAR nations.

“We want to accelerate our moves forward and that certainly will impact on the traditional Tri-nations window and on other IRB (International Rugby Board) stakeholders. But we have to weigh up what we stand to lose against what we stand to gain.

“We had an assurance from the northern hemisphere that they would send their best available sides down south in June, but we’ve seen no evidence of that yet. At some stage our patience will run out,” Stones added.

Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O’Neill, a seasoned sports administrator, said the changes would ensure SANZAR remained in rude health.

“In terms of provincial competitions, the Super 14 is the best rugby in the world with the best players in the world. The ratings have held up really well.

“We’ve had incredibly constructive dialogue over the next stage in our evolution and this is the most exciting time in my 13 years in sport,” O’Neill said.

Stones added: “We’ve been having a workshop in Perth over the last three days and I believe what has come out of here will be the defining moment in SANZAR history. There is absolutely solid agreement on the way forward,”

“Argentina are not out of the loop either. They said they wanted to play in an established competition and the only two are the Six Nations and the Tri-nations.

“They were told bluntly at the IRB meeting that they are in the southern hemisphere, and there are a couple of things they have to deliver if they are to be part of the Tri-nations.”

O’Neill added that the Super 14 could end up as a Super 18 and teams from Tokyo or Los Angeles could even be involved.

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