February 14, 2012
So, what’s new? One year, they are complaining that the tournament scheduling is unfair because, they argue, it favours the Australian and New Zealand teams. The next, they are moaning about wanting to head to Europe because they play in the same time zone.
Now they are complaining they don’t have enough teams in the tournament – and that if the tournament is not expanded from a Super 15 to Super 16, they will boycott the event.
Forget about it. It’s not going to happen. It is just the latest in a long line of the type of political bluster of which South African rugby officials are the masters. The Super Rugby ranks were all a tizz yesterday when a South African newspaper claimed the five local teams had threatened to boycott next year’s tournament if any of them were excluded at the expense of the Southern Kings.
The Rapport newspaper said the Stormers, Bulls, Lions, Cheetahs and Sharks had sent a letter detailing their demands to the South African Rugby Union, including that none of them would be eliminated from the tournament next year, when the Kings are added to the Super Rugby ranks. The Kings hail from the Eastern Cape, the South African province that boasts the most black players.
The concern of the South African Super Rugby teams is that unless there are six South African teams in next year’s tournament, which will mean expanding to a 16-team competition, one of them will have to be cut to make way for the Kings.
The two provinces most under threat hail from the highveld – the Lions and the Cheetahs. Adding to the pressure is that the South African authorities have already said a merger of those two is not on the table.
Instead, a relegation system has been proposed, causing concern among all the South African provinces. So the boycott threat is all about survival and putting pressure on the local authorities not to give the Kings an easy leg-up.
Not surprisingly, South African officials yesterday tried to play down the boycott threat, but did acknowledge there was friction among the five existing Super Rugby teams over the Kings’ inclusion. To try to keep all their constituents happy, the SARU will continue lobbying their Australian and New Zealand partners to get an extra team. But they have no hope of success.
As Australian Rugby Union chief executive and SANZAR board member John O’Neill told the Herald last week: ”We’re in the second year of a five-year deal where we sold to the broadcasters a 15-team competition. Changing that midstream is not really on.”
The Super 15 will remain the Super 15 until at least 2016 – and one South African province will have to go to allow the Kings to come in. End of story.