One Australian Super Rugby team is set for the chop, if reported comments by Cheetahs boss Harold Verster are to be believed.
Speaking to Afrikaans language news website Netwerk 24, Vester said his club had been told it was safe, with Super Rugby to go from 18 to 16 teams in 2018.
If his comments are on the mark, it seems the Kings would be axed from one of the South African conferences and one of the Force, Rebels or Brumbies would be under pressure in Australia.
Broadcaster talks still loom as critical in the discussion, but Verster’s comments suggested that a 16-team competition was the consensus from the weekend’s SANZAAR exco meeting.
“All I can say is that we are safe. I keep my ear to the ground,” he reportedly said, in an English translation.
“There is much discussion about the current series and the format and two teams of South Africa and a team from Australia.
“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, ” he added.
A 16-team competition was not the ARU’s preference heading into last Saturday’s SANZAAR meetings in London, with a 15-team contraction the most purported beforehand if any change occurred, and New Zealand reportedly pushed for teams from South Africa and Australia to face the axe.
While a conference system would be difficult to maintain with 16 teams, there is the possibility of each team playing the other once.
That possibility, though, would reduce the number of local derbies, keep an uneven ratio of home and away matches and potentially increase the cost of travel in an already expensive competition.
Waratahs captain Michael Hooper said on Tuesday he believed Australia could support five teams.
“I think Australia can have five teams in the competition,” he said
“I think the Force have come out this year and done some really good things and then they’ve been one, the name that people have been throwing around a lot.
“As players, we want guys having as much opportunity to wear a Wallaby jersey as possible. So I’m all in favour of having five teams and a competitive five teams at that.”
No decision is expected to be made public for a number of weeks, though the ARU was set to speak with clubs about the meeting and other issues on Tuesday afternoon.
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