January 31, 2012 by
Sanity is what the South African Rugby Union are hoping will prevail when they approach Sanzar with their request for a sixth SuperRugby franchise from next year.
If Sanzar turn down South Africa’s request to further expand the competition from its existing 15-team format, then the result will be, in deputy president Mark Alexander’s words, “what nobody wants” – the axing of either the Lions, Cheetahs, Bulls, Sharks or Stormers from SuperRugby.
The one thing that is certain, according to Alexander, is that the Southern Kings will definitely play SuperRugby from 2013.
“The Kings are in, involving them in a promotion/relegation match is not an option. They have come up with a business plan and Jurie Roux [Saru CEO] is comfortable with it.
“The first prize for us is to have a sixth franchise because we don’t want to see anybody go down. That’s the last thing we want because if you drop out of SuperRugby, it’s almost impossible to get back up.
“But there is a window of opportunity with Sanzar and we will be meeting with them in February. We have prepared a dummy schedule for them and we’ll possibly take the minister of sport along with us. Our relationship has improved tremendously with Sanzar and we’re hoping to sell them a workable model that will comprise 15 weeks of round-robin play, so it’s actually a reduction in the amount of rugby,” Alexander said in Sandton on Tuesday, at the launch of insurance company CIB’s three-year associate sponsorship of Vodacom SuperRugby.
“We’re certain that sanity will prevail and there’ll be a win/win solution. The coaches don’t want so many local derbies plus with our format, you play everybody else. But we’ll be going to Sanzar cap in hand,” Alexander said.
Saru’s caps might be in their hands, but they will carry a useful shotgun with them in the form of SuperSport’s support for their proposal. SuperSport are the biggest contributors to Sanzar’s revenue, so what they say most certainly does carry weight, which will be needed to counteract Australia’s influence.
The new SuperRugby format is very much an Australian invention, what with the conferences and almost every change benefiting their franchises. And the longer the SuperRugby tournament is, the better it is for Australia, allowing them to cover up their lack of a domestic competition like the Currie Cup.
If Saru are unsuccessful in getting a sixth SuperRugby franchise, then the current financial cloud surrounding the Lions is exactly the type of thing that could see them relegated.
Alexander was non-committal when it came to whether he believed the Golden Lions Rugby Union’s side of the story or that of the Guma Group, but he did confirm Saru executives were meeting with the Lions on Tuesday afternoon.
“Kevin de Klerk [Lions president] hasn’t raised any red flags, but we’re meeting with the Lions this afternoon. We will talk about all these allegations and rumours, and it’s sad when one of the metropolitan unions has to go through all these issues around finance.
“Johannesburg is the financial capital of Africa but a number of provinces are negotiating equity deals and who knows what model is the right one. It’s all very hit-or-miss,” Alexander said.
While Saru are trying to increase the size of the SuperRugby competition, they are still hell-bent on reducing the size of the Currie Cup.
But Alexander did admit Saru were very concerned with the fate of the bottom eight unions and will be trying to raise the profile of the Currie Cup First Division [B Section].
“The smaller unions are suffering and obviously we need to sustain them because they are important as our feeder unions. But we want teams to play at a level at which they are competitive.
“We’ll be trying to get more sponsorship for the smaller unions and raise the profile of the First Division. With eight teams, that should be a vibrant competition, although it was a tough call to make because the Leopards and Pumas gave a lot of previous Currie Cup winners a run for their money and even beat some of them. But they will also have a chance of getting back to the Premier Division because there will be promotion/relegation,” Alexander said.