Pulver reveals SR expansion plans

Date published: April 30 2014

Super Rugby will involve four conferences – two in South Africa – and expand to 18 teams in 2016, ARU chief Bill Pulver has revealed.

Super Rugby will expand into four conferences – two in South Africa – and the tournament will increase to 18 teams in 2016, Australian Rugby Union chief Bill Pulver has revealed.

Pulver also revealed that the announcement the restructured model to take to broadcasters is only a fortnight away.

Australia and New Zealand would each keep their five current teams in their conferences, while South Africa will increase its quota to six – including the recalled Southern Kings – and teams would be added from Argentina and possibly Asia.

Australia's five franchises would play two less derbies in a 15-game regular season but would increase their four matches against their New Zealand opponents to five under the new structure.

South Africa's teams will be put in two pools with a new team from Argentina and a final side, which has yet to be determined but which the ARU hopes will be based in the Asian market.

Those two four-team groups – including an overseas expansion team in each – will only face one of the two Australasian conferences each year, which reduces fears of an increase in travel. In other words, one South African pool will play the Australian teams while the other will play the Kiwi sides on a rotational basis from year-to-year.

South Africa has been pushing for several seasons for a sixth team, which would allow the Kings re-entry. There was speculation Australia and New Zealand could break away and form an Australasian competition, but South Africa's close proximity to European time zones made that unlikely due to the extra weight that gives SANZAR in TV rights negotiations.

“It's likely to be a four-conference model and this will be finalised in the next couple of weeks to be announced,” Pulver told AAP.

While the ARU chief executive is supporting SANZAR's in-principle expansion plans, they're unlikely to be applauded by his provincial counterparts.

Pulver has been under pressure from Australia's franchises and the players' association to withdraw the country from South Africa-driven plans to increase the number of Super Rugby teams from 15 to 18.

South Africa has demanded that the Port Elizabeth-based Kings, who were relegated in 2013, be reinstated for good.

With South Africa providing close to half of the broadcast revenue, SANZAR has listened to their powerful voice, and New Zealand are opposed to breaking the partnership.

With less local derbies planned for Australia – dropping from eight to six, and meaning one less home match every second year – state officials in the country are upset, saying they believe it will see them go bust.

Pulver said he understood the concerns but supported the proposed changes as the best model to improve the tournament and boost broadcasting revenue.

“I'm more than happy to go along with it,” he added.

“I think it will be a terrific structure for the game.”

Queensland Rugby Union chief executive Jim Carmichael hoped Australian officials remained open-minded about expansion plans to ensure the best outcome for rugby union.

“We don't have a preferred model, as yet,” he said.

“We have a preferred position, and that is not to prejudice Australian interests in the competition moving forward.

“I'm okay to come to the table and hear alternative views as long as we are able to review those and ensure it ultimately delivers for Australian rugby.”

While the Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies are unhappy about the loss of derby matches, Pulver said less was more for the Rebels and Western Force.

“In Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra they work very well,” he said.

“In Melbourne and Perth those two franchises aren't too excited in home derbies.”