Super Rugby to be cut to 16 teams - Cheetahs boss

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Super Rugby will be cut from 18 teams to 16 for next season following a meeting of governing body SANZAAR in London last week, Harold Verster, chief executive of the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs told South African media.

SANZAAR, which is made up of the South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentine rugby unions, met last Friday to address widespread criticisms of the unwieldy 18-team format, which was introduced last year.

Online news portal Netwerk24 cited Verster as saying one of South Africa’s six teams and one of Australia’s five would now be cut from the competition for 2018.

“There was even speculation that we would return to a Super 12, but my information is that it is going to be reduced from the current 18 to 16 teams, which means the Cheetahs are safe,” Verster said.

“There is much discussion about the current series and the format and that two South African teams and one Australian team would drop out.

“All I can say is that we are safe. I keep my ear to the ground.”

In Australia, the Perth-based Western Force and Melbourne Rebels are seen as the most vulnerable teams in any cull.

The struggling Western Force has been under the management of the Australian Rugby Union since falling into financial strife last year.

Like the Force, the Rebels have never made the playoffs but being privately owned, are less of a financial drain on ARU coffers.

The chief executives of Australia’s five teams were 1briefed in a conference call with the national rugby union on Tuesday.

The Australian Rugby Union declined to comment, saying it would wait until a final outcome was made at SANZAAR level and announced first by the governing body.

The Eastern Cape-based Southern Kings, who re-joined the competition last year along with new teams from Argentina and Japan, are regarded the most vulnerable of South Africa’s six teams.

The Kings finished only above Japan’s debutant Sunwolves in the competition last season and had to be bailed out by South Africa Rugby after a financial crisis.

SANZAAR on Saturday said it would issue a statement on the future of the competition after stakeholders hold ‘final’ consultations this week.

With the competition only one year into a broadcast deal that runs to 2020, rights holders are certain to play a key role in those consultations and may ultimately decide whether the tournament contracts or maintains the status quo.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Mulvenney