ARU boss advises over Super expansion - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

ARU boss advises over Super expansion

By Jim Morton 12/03/2009 02:46:26 PM Comments (0)

ARU boss John O'Neill has urged South Africa to cut one of their struggling high veldt outfits to open the Super rugby door to a black team from the Eastern Cape.

South African officials have taken umbrage at Australian suggestions a 15th team deserves to come from Down Under, believing the Eastern Cape's 'Southern Kings' should play in the expanded tournament from 2011.

Governing body SANZAR last week decided to expand the competition with the main plan to see three five-team conferences set up in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

With the new team expected to be included in the Australian conference, O'Neill doesn't see the sense in admitting the Kings, as politically important as it would be to the game in the Republic.

But he did believe it would be in South Africa and the competition's best interests if they replaced one of the three franchises in close proximity on the veldt - the Cheetahs, Lions or Bulls.

O'Neill's suggestion would have the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs most in the firing line as they are the only win-less side in the 2009 Super 14 competition and are yet to win a game on the road in Australasia since being admitted in 2006.

The Cheetahs also gained their chance in the competition when the South African Rugby Union (SARU) controversially overlooked the Eastern Cape in their favour four years ago.

"The Eastern Cape is a politically very important component of South African rugby," O'Neill said on Fox Sports on Wednesday.

"But perhaps a better option for them, we've got three teams on the high veldt at the moment, maybe reduce that back to two and include the Eastern Cape, that's a solution for them."

The Cheetahs and Lions did play together as the Cats up until 2005 but it was a marriage of inconvenience for both as the side struggled to get off the bottom of the ladder.

SARU officials have argued they deserve to have another team as they boast the biggest television market in the competition and are opposed to the expanded competition cutting into their own national Currie Cup.

But O'Neill said it was Super rugby and the Tri-Nations which ensured a lucrative broadcast agreement for SANZAR, not the third-tier competitions.

"We (Australia) don't have a Currie Cup or an (New Zealand) NPC but at the end of the day our driving force of our success for 13 or 14 years has been Super rugby or Tri-Nations, we can't forget that," he said.

"The other stuff makes up the numbers but the revenue, if you ask Fox Sports what do they pay the big money for, they pay the big money for Super rugby and Tri-Nations.

"They are the rainmakers."

O'Neill is hopeful the new franchise - to be decided by SANZAR this year - would be an Australian-based outfit which could provide a pathway back home for expatriate Australian players and also include a heavy Pacific Islander influence.

Currently uncapped Samoan, Tongan and Fijian players can only play for Australian sides if they give up their heritage and become available for the Wallabies but O'Neill said a change in the ARU's foreign player policy could allow Islander imports to remain eligible for their countries.

"I think this is a win-win here," he said. "I think we can open the door a bit more on foreign players and give some preference to Pacific Islands players and bring (many of) them back from Europe and the UK."

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