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ARU to meet on Sunday to prepare for vote on 15-team Super model

The fate of one of Australia’s five Super Rugby teams could be decided as soon as Monday after the Australian Rugby Union moved to bring to a head one of the most damaging periods of uncertainty in the history of the code in Australia.

Almost a month after South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina and Australia met in London to agree to a new competition structure for Super Rugby next season but decided to keep it a secret, the ARU board will meet on Sunday to prepare for a vote on the plan on Monday morning.

Though the four SANZAAR nations have maintained a strained silence, it is expected the ARU board will vote on a 15-team model that requires Australia to sacrifice one of its five Super Rugby licences and South Africa two of its six licences.

In an interesting development, however, the board’s nine directors, including chairman Cameron Clyne, ARU chief executive Bill Pulver and former Wallabies John Eales and Brett Robinson, will now also consider which of the five teams the ARU might sacrifice, with the nine-year-old Western Force looming as the team most likely ahead of the Melbourne Rebels and ACT Brumbies. It is a marked change from earlier messaging out of ARU headquarters, which emphasised agreeing to cut a team as a separate process from deciding which team that would be.

The change means one of those three teams could learn their fate as early as Monday and be forced to play out the remaining 10 rounds of this season in the knowledge they will not exist beyond August. However, there was also speculation earlier in the week that the position of Japanese team the Sunwolves was under scrutiny after the Force, Rebels and Brumbies worked hard to shore up financial and government support for their businesses.

News of an ARU vote comes despite prevarication from SA Rugby, the South African national union, which met on Thursday but had not by Friday told the other joint venture partners of its decision in any official capacity.

The ARU, which has come under enormous scrutiny and pressure over its handling of the vexed issue, appears intent on tying up its own end of the agreement and avoiding any further drawn-out speculation, which has plunged the code into a spiral of negative publicity for the past month.

The Rugby Union Players’ Association, which looks after the interests of Australia’s 160-odd professional players, implored the board to back a national footprint for the code.

“The ARU board undoubtedly has a wealth of professional expertise and respected business leaders, with a proven track record of growing businesses all over the globe,” chief executive Ross Xenos said.

“We’d like to see that same growth mindset applied to Australian rugby for a vibrant and prosperous five-team future, rather than making further cuts to the game in an attempt to shrink our way to success.

“The ARU should hold the line and retain all five Australian Super Rugby teams, not make any concessions because of the ills of the past.”

However, the ARU board’s approval alone would also not set in stone a 15-team format next season. Each of the unions in the SANZAAR joint venture must vote internally to approve the change and re-negotiate the remainder of a lucrative broadcast deal signed in 2015.

In the Australian case, it was not until late on Thursday that the ARU received sign-off from Fox Sports. The imprimatur of all broadcasters is key as the current deal is not due to expire until 2020. That includes British broadcaster Sky, whose enthusiasm for southern hemisphere rugby content led to the 147 per cent increase in the current deal.

In South Africa it has been reported that the Kings and Cheetahs are likely to face the chop, although strong opposition is expected from both teams. Crucially, South African broadcaster SuperSport is understood to support the proposed model in principle after ratings plunged under the 18-team format, which started in 2016.

Fairfax New Zealand reported that a return to a 15-team competition would probably see the format revert to three conferences, with Japan’s Sunwolves joining the Australian conference and Argentina’s Jaguares in the South African group. New Zealand would retain its five franchises in the third conference.

Under the 15-team Super Rugby format, which ran from 2011 through 2015, teams played two rounds of local derbies – eight in total, two more than they do now – followed by four games against opposition from the other two conferences.

Historical concerns centred on the inequality of the conferences and, in New Zealand, the limited prospects of Kiwi teams making the play-offs.

– with Liam Napier

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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