The Australian Rugby Union hasn’t given up hope of one day building a provincial trans-Tasman rugby competition despite being firmly knocked back amid the recent Super Rugby negotiations.
The ARU on Monday confirmed that Melbourne Rebels or Western Force would be cut from Super Rugby to meet SANZAAR’s revised competition structure for 2018, ending months of ongoing speculation around the tournament’s future.
SANZAAR sources confirm to ESPN that New Zealand Rugby and Sky Sport were particularly aggressive in pushing the point that Australia has no option but to get rid of one Super Rugby team.
ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said the union, “at the request of the Board … completed an exhaustive analysis on three of our teams: the Brumbies, Western Force and Melbourne Rebels”.
That speculation had included an option floated by the ARU, and heavily pushed by Australia’s Rugby Union Players Association, as discussed last week on ESPN’s Scrum5 Podcast, was for the formation of a trans-Tasman competition with further teams potentially based in Asia or the Pacific Islands. But that option would have left both South Africa and Argentina in the cold, and ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said “there was no appetite from New Zealand to pursue that competition”.
“We’ve explored it extensively and we explored it through this [review] process; there was no appetite from New Zealand for a trans-Tasman competition,” Clyne said.
“So I need to put that [out there]; there’s sort of a view that we can throw down and stand up and do a whole range of things. That requires a willing partner; we didn’t have a willing partner.”
While a trans-Tasman competition may make sense in terms of friendlier timezones, and would have foreseeably allowed Australia to retain five franchises, New Zealand Rugby sees provincial competition against South Africa as a key component of its all-round rugby setup.
New Zealand administrators reportedly also have little respect for their Australian counterparts, with sources revealing as much to Greg Growden, but Clyne on Monday publicly backed chief executive Bill Pulver — saying he’d done a fine job in rebuilding several previously burned relationships at the international level. Clyne also scoffed at suggestions that Australia needed to show some gumption and force New Zealand to the bargaining table.
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“You don’t call a bluff unless you’re prepared for the outcomes,” Clyne said. “And I’ve enjoyed the amount of people who’ve become urologists in this game and made assessments about anatomical requirements.
“The reality is, though, people say ‘oh well Australia should just tough it out, the Kiwis will never fly over the top of you to play South Africa’. You’ve got to be absolutely sure that’s the case if you’re going to play that card. Now you may think it, but you don’t know.
“We’re in this to get the best outcome for Australian rugby … so you cannot play that card unless you’re prepared for the outcome may very well be that they do fly over the top of you. That would be catastrophic for Australian rugby.”
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While the concept of a trans-Tasman competition was quickly swatted away this time, the ARU refuses to believe it is dead and buried once and for all; indeed Clyne hopes it may yet be revisited ahead of the next broadcast deal.
“Well we were not doing that in isolation from any other partners,” Clyne said of the negotiations across all SANZAAR member unions.
“I should say there were also scenarios being discussed that might have seen other people cut free.
“We had open, frank discussions; it wasn’t a question of cutting [a nation] free, it was saying is there a better format where other people can find conferences that work for them … at the end of the day there is not an appetite at the moment.
“When that appetite emerges we will always continue to push [trans-Tasman competition]; we think it’s got merit. But at the moment this is the one that’s actually got the majority, or the consensus, support from SANZAAR and it’s the one we’re going to pursue. But we’ll keep talking about what options we can get.”
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The trans-Tasman option would certainly be a viable if South Africa decided to go to Europe for provincial rugby reasons, although that would have a further effect on The Rugby Championship — which the ARU says is wholly intertwined with Super Rugby.
As for the health of the SANZAAR alliance given the past 12 months, Pulver said: “SANZAAR is a very sustainable structure, it is an important component of world rugby.
“If Australia was acting totally in isolation, I promise you we would not have as many effective outcomes. I dare say we would not have got the changes to the international match calendar had we not had SANZAAR; it was the driving force behind that.
“In terms of the competition[s], I mean Rugby Championship is hugely successful so nobody wants to change that and within SANZAAR we all desperately want to find the right model for a healthy future Super Rugby competition. SANZAAR is absolutely sustainable – we’ve just got some more work to do.”
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