'sa rugby bluffing'

UNWORRIED: ARU chief executive John O'Neill. 11/05/09. © Unknown.
UNWORRIED: ARU chief executive John O'Neill. 11/05/09. © Unknown.

SYDNEY - South Africa's threat to quit the Super 14 series and play in northern hemisphere competitions is a bluff, Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill said yesterday.

SYDNEY - South Africa's threat to quit the Super 14 series and play in northern hemisphere competitions is a bluff, Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill said yesterday.

The three Sanzar nations - South Africa, New Zealand and Australia - are deadlocked in their negotiations ahead of a June 30 deadline to present a proposal to broadcasters for an expanded Super 15 competition to start in 2011.

A Sanzar board meeting on May 14 will discuss the future of Super Rugby amid reports South Africa are threatening to play their competitions in the northern hemisphere if their demands are not met.

But O'Neill said he believed the defection threat was a ploy.

"That's been a long-held bluff, in my view. From all the enquiries we've made, we believe there isn't an exit for them in the north," O'Neill told Australian radio.

"What has happened is Australia and New Zealand, out of pure frustration, have worked on a trans-Tasman competition which does work, with five or six teams from Australia and five or six from New Zealand.

"It's a Super 10 or Super 12, played over two rounds, and bringing in Japan in a couple of years time. It's a pretty elegant solution.

"The roles have changed in that we have a plan B and I'm not sure South Africa do."

South Africa appears reluctant to shift its domestic Currie Cup competition in the rugby calendar, meaning Super rugby would start in February and cover a similar time-frame to its current schedule.

Australia and New Zealand want the extended three-conference Super 15 competition to run from March to August, with the Tri-Nations Tests to follow.

O'Neill said he also objected to South Africa pushing for a sixth team, which would play in the Australian conference.

He said the 15th team should come from Australia, with Melbourne and Gold Coast the main contenders, and there was potential for it to be a joint venture franchise with New Zealand.

"On a couple of occasions we thought we'd had an agreement but the South Africans have changed their minds. They're very unpredictable," O'Neill said.

"We don't want South Africa to drop out of Super rugby, we want them to stay in. But the conditions they're attaching to their participation are in our view unreasonable." - Sapa-AFP

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