One Australian Super Rugby team will be cut from next year’s competition, according to a South African report quoting Cheetahs boss Harold Verster.
The report on the Afrikaans language website Netwerk24 is likely to further focus attention on the future of the Western Force, with Verster quoted as saying SANZAAR would reduce the cumbersome five nation competition from 18 to 16 teams — with one Australian and one South African side to get the chop.
Verster said the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs had been given assurances that they would be safe, presumably leaving the Port Elizabeth-based Kings in the firing line.
The Force, Rebels and Brumbies are the Australian clubs facing a nervous wait following SANZAAR’s meeting in London on Friday.
“All I can say is that we are safe,” chief executive Verster reportedly said.
“I keep my ear to the ground.
“There is much discussion about the current series and the format and two teams of South Africa and a team of Australia (getting culled).
“There was even speculation that we would return to a Super 12, but my information is that we are going to be reduced from the current 18 to 16 teams, which means the Cheetahs are safe.”
The report comes as chief executives of the five Australian Super Rugby teams prepare for a teleconference for an update from the Australian Rugby Union later on Tuesday.
The Perth-based Force would be the easiest team for the Australian Rugby Union to axe, given that they currently own and operate them.
The Forcer were the recipients of the most lucrative sponsorship in Australian Super Rugby in January, being gifted $1.5 million from the WA government’s Road Safety Commission.
The Force have never made the playoffs but are showing some signs of life this season under bright new coach Dave Wessels.
The Canberra-based Brumbies have had off-field troubles in recent times but on the park they are Australia’s most successful franchise and have won two Super Rugby titles.
The privately owned Rebels, meanwhile, have made an atrocious start to the 2017 season, suffering humiliating losses to the Blues and Hurricanes.
The Rebels have also never made the playoffs.
But club owner Andrew Cox has expressed extreme confidence that the Melbourne side was safe from any potential cull.
Former Wallaby Glen Ella, meanwhile, has argued in favour of a reduction to four Australian teams, with the Brumbies and Rebels then merging.
During SANZAAR’s Friday meetings in London, New Zealand Rugby reportedly pushed for a reduction in poorly performing South African and Australian sides.
The competition was particuarly lopsided last season, with Kiwi teams dominating, and the same trend is continuing after three rounds in 2017.
“Following two days of robust discussion there are a number of tournament considerations that now require further discussion and consultation,” SANZAAR’s South African chief executive Andy Marinos said in a statement on Saturday.
“SANZAAR will make a formal statement on the future of the organisation, Super Rugby and the tournament format in the coming days once these further meetings have been concluded.”
The Daily Telegraph reported that broadcasters in the four member nations (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina), including Fox Sports, were reviewing the proposal and would meet relevant rugby bosses later this week to discuss any overhaul.
Argentina’s Jaguares and Japan’s Sunwolves were introduced to the expanded competition last season and both performed poorly.