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SANZAR confirms Super Rugby expansion to 18 teams in 2016

SANZAR confirms Super Rugby expansion to 18 teams in 2016
May 2, 2014

The Super Rugby competition will expand to 18 teams in 2016, with three new sides coming from South Africa, Argentina and possibly Asia or the USA.

Explaining the changes to the competition, New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) Chief Executive Steve Tew said a revamp was needed in the southern hemisphere competition, which currently includes five teams from each of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Tew said expansion, which has been approved by governing body SANZAR and its Member Unions, would meet South African demands for a sixth team and help establish elite professional rugby in Argentina.

He stated that the addition of an 18th team would also take the game to new markets, stating "there's interest on the west coast of America, there's interest in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan", adding that discussions were already underway with "credible" potential bidders for the groundbreaking franchise.

The new plan will see the competition will be split into two regional groupings, South Africa and Australasia, each containing two ‘conferences’, allowing greater interaction between Australian and New Zealand teams and an expanded finals series.

Australasia will have 10 teams, with the five Australian and five New Zealand sides within the Australasian ‘conference’ with teams playing the majority of their regular season games against sides from their own regional grouping.

Tew sees that this will minimise the large amounts of travel needed under the current format.

The South Africa grouping will have eight teams - including Argentina and the 18th team – which will be determined by a tender process.

Australian Rugby Union Chief Executive Bill Pulver said the expanded model would be a terrific new structure for the game, stating “the international nature of Super Rugby makes it unique. It’s already one of the world’s most exciting provincial Rugby competitions, and with the changes announced today, it has the potential to become a truly global competition.

“Our strong preference is for the 18th team to come from Asia as we believe this will attract significant commercial opportunities for us in the future.”

Pulver added that the new competition structure would be an appealing proposition for broadcasters, which has the potential to deliver significant positive outcomes and growth opportunities for rugby in Australia.

He continued “negotiating a significantly increased broadcast deal is the single greatest opportunity we have to increase revenue for rugby in Australia, which will ensure we can deliver on our strategic priorities and grow the game by continuing to contribute to funding Super Rugby teams; retaining our best talent; new competitions; and by creating an overall better experience for our fan base, especially on game day.

“We’re pleased home-and-away local derbies will continue to be a feature of Super Rugby and that we’ll increase our competitive rivalry with New Zealand by increasing the number of games we play against them.

“It’s crucial for the long-term success of the Qantas Wallabies that we’re playing the best opposition in the world on a regular basis, and this has been reinforced by the new model offering the Australasian Conference a guaranteed five of eight places in the Super Rugby Finals Series.

“With a broader pool of playing talent, more venues and extra match-ups, the new structure presents fantastic opportunities for our players and fans.”

The next step in the process will be to negotiate commercial arrangements, and to agree the draw and other details of the future competition.

Key features of the new structure:

• The Australian and New Zealand Conferences will remain in their existing format (the existing five teams from Australia and five teams from New Zealand).

• The South African Conference will expand to eight teams and will be split into two conferences of four teams each.

• All Australian teams will play all New Zealand teams each season, compared to playing four New Zealand teams per season in the current structure.

• 135 regular season matches compared to 120 matches in the current competition structure and an expanded finals series, including five teams from the Australasian Group and three from the South African Group.

• Australian teams will play all teams from one of the South African Conferences each season.

• Continued cross over between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (the top three nations in world Rugby), which is a crucial element following feedback from broadcasters.

• Each team will play 15 regular season games compared to 16 matches in the current structure – eight home and seven away, or vice versa over a two-year cycle – and two byes per team per season.

• The winner of the Australian Conference is guaranteed a home quarter final.

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