Three Super Rugby teams, including one from Australia, are to be axed after this season, governing body SANZAAR has announced.
The Western Force are widely tipped to get the axe but the Australian Rugby Union is making no announcement yet on which franchise it will cull, with the Melbourne Rebels and Brumbies also facing speculation in recent weeks.
The ARU has scheduled a media conference for chairman Cameron Clyne and CEO Bill Pulver at 9.30am in Sydney on Monday, but it’s understood they won’t at that point name which team will be cut.
Under pressure due to financial losses and fan discontent over the confusing and unbalanced competition, SANZAAR has opted to slash it from 18 teams to 15 and from four conferences to three – the numbers that existed in 2015.
Australia will lose one of its five teams while South Africa loses two of its six teams and New Zealand’s dominant group of five foundation teams remains unchanged.
The three five-team conferences will be New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, with Japan’s Sunwolves to join the Australian conference and Argentina’s Jaguares to play in the South Africa conference.
SANZAAR left it to the national rugby unions concerned to announce the teams they are cutting.
The Port Elizabeth-based Kings and Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs are considered the most vulnerable South African franchises.
“Naturally we understand that there will be some very disappointed franchises but the tournament’s long-term future and the economic reality of the business at present is something that had to be addressed,” said SANZAAR chairman Brett Impey.
The 18-team format, introduced in 2016 after Argentina’s Jaguares and the Sunwolves of Japan joined the competition and the Kings returned, was widely criticised and there were fears the quality of the product was being diluted.
Impey addressed fans’ concerns at the Sunwolves, with just two wins in their existence, surviving while better-performed teams get axed.
“The decision to retain the Sunwolves is linked directly to SANZAAR’s strategic plan for the future,” he said.
“The potential for growth of the sport in Asia off the back of the establishment of the Sunwolves and the impending RWC in 2019 is significant.”
Key features of the new-look Super Rugby from 2018:
120 match regular season plus seven-match finals series
15 teams across three conferences (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa)
18 rounds (16 matches per team, two bye weeks)
Each team will play eight matches within its conference (four home and four away)
Each team will play eight cross-conference matches – against four of the five teams from each of the other two conferences (four at home and four away)
Each team will play 12 of the other teams within the season (85 per cent of opposition teams, is up from 70 per cent in 2016).
Eight-team finals series: Three conference winners and five wild card places – the next-best performing teams based on competition points after the conference winners regardless of conference.
Conference winners and fourth-placed team on competition points will host quarter-finals.
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SANZAAR confirm three teams to be axed
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