Incoming Sanzar chief executive Andy Marinos has said the umbrella body for the Argentinian, Australian, New Zealand and South African rugby unions is considering expansion in all areas of the world, including Europe, while stakeholders behind embattled Super Rugby expansion franchises in Japan and South Africa have said the teams will compete as scheduled next season.
Marinos will start in his new role on January 1, having previously served as Sanzar chief executive from 2008 to 2010. Marinos said one of his first duties would be to draw up a strategy for the “further growth and expansion” of the competitions Sanzar run – Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship.
Following demotion in 2013, the Southern Kings are scheduled to return to Super Rugby in 2016 as part of the competition’s expansion. The tournament currently contains five teams each from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, but is set to expand to 18 teams from 2016 through the addition of the Port Elizabeth-based Kings, along with new clubs from Argentina and Japan.
Although further expansion into Asia, along with the untapped North American market, would be more natural targets, Marinos said that even Europe would be considered. Developing European nations are currently angling for a greater role in competitions such as the Six Nations.
“I think you've got to have a pretty open piece of paper,” Marinos said, according to the Reuters news agency. “Besides the rugby strength that you've got to look at it's also got to be in good markets from a commercial point of view because, at the end of the day, you've got to generate sufficient revenue to sustain the competition so you've got to look across the board. You've got to look at all the markets where there are opportunities.”
Along with commercial returns from expansion, Marinos added that Sanzar has a duty to raise the level of the game in the areas concerned, making a further increase in the number of Super Rugby teams over the next two years unlikely. Regarding the potential for involvement in the Pacific Island nations of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, he added: “The Pacific Islands are very much in our thinking.
“The over-arching consideration on any future expansion in my view is that we have to proper geographic locations that are also commercially attractive. The participation and inclusion of Pacific Islander players is really important, how we do that the next step and is going to need a fair bit of thought about it.”
Meanwhile, Marinos has maintained that Japan’s Sunwolves franchise will definitely compete in Super Rugby next season. Question marks have arisen over the team with it yet to have appointed a head coach or publicly disclosed any player signings just over three months before it is due to make its debut.
However, Marinos said: “They have contracted a core group of around 24 to 25 Japanese players. We expect they will finalise their coach in the next week or two. And there are obviously a few players who are waiting to understand who that coach is before they commit. We expect to see a lot more traction in the next week or two.”
Finally, the South African Rugby Union (SARU) has said it expects to be able to announce details of its plans for the Southern Kings franchise early next week. The SARU moved to seize control of the Kings last week in a bid to assist the Eastern Province Rugby Union, which is enduring financial difficulties.
“We have made major progress in preparing an implementation plan for the Vodacom Super Rugby franchise,” Jurie Roux, chief executive of SARU, said. “We have addressed issues around on-field and off-field structures and preparations and are now moving through our governance and communication processes with stakeholders.
“I expect that process to be completed by early next week – after we have informed the SARU Exco – after which time we will be able to reveal all the details to the rugby public of Port Elizabeth and the Eastern Cape. We know the franchise has been slow out of the blocks but there was a spring in everyone’s step at the conclusion of today’s meeting. We’re optimistic about the road ahead.”