New Zealand Rugby
Hobbs fears end of SANZAR partnership
April 23, 2009

The New Zealand Rugby Union have expressed their fears over the future of the SANZAR partnership.

SANZAR, the umbrella body incorporating the New Zealand, South African and Australian Rugby Unions, has owned that rights to Super Rugby and the Tri-Nations since its formation in 1996 but the governing bodies have failed to reach an agreement over the future of rugby in the region.

The New Zealand Rugby Union are continuing to press for a solution to the impasse while at the same time investigating an alternative Asia-Pacific competition with Australia. South Africa remains at loggerheads with its trans-Tasman partners over a new broadcast deal for an expanded Super competition, which has to be presented to broadcasters News Ltd by June 30.

The sticking point is reportedly South Africa's domestic Currie Cup competition, for which broadcasting rights have sold, with the South African union saying its provinces are reluctant to shift its dates. There is also dispute over when the Super competition should start and whether Australia or South Africa should get the 15th team.

New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) chairman Jock Hobbs today said he could not give assurances the impasse would be resolved.

"There a couple of outstanding issues. We have narrowed them down, but unless they are resolved it is likely Sanzar relationship will fold," he said during a break at the union's annual meeting in Wellington. "That is not our hope, that is not what we would wish for, and not what we are working towards achieving but it is a possibility."

He said New Zealand officials had been quite open with South Africa and that, while negotiating with it on an expanded Super 14, they were also looking at alternatives such as an Asia-Pacific competition with Australia.

"That is not our preference. Our preference is that Sanzar does stay together. We think that is best for rugby and the best way forward. We have a couple of hurdles to get over and we have to get over them very, very quickly. Time is ticking."

However, having worked on the 2005 SANZAR negotiations, he said it was not unusual for a difficult protracted process to occur. "It is something we have been through before."

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said while New Zealand had its domestic rugby competitions protected, the South Africans were adamant about their Currie Cup while Australia was just desperate for more rugby.

"They are three quite diverse drivers. We are trying hard, we have tried to play more of a middle ground role in this negotiation and we are going to continue to play that role and hopefully we will get there," he said.

"The South Africans are adamant there are things they can't agree to with the latest (deal) version that we have been working on, and we are still working with them in that regard."

The comments from the NZRU follow concerns expressed by Australia Rugby Union boss John O'Neill earlier this week.

"We're still talking. It's very ambiguous at the moment. I think all the moving so far has been by Australia and New Zealand, that's the truth of it, and you get to a point where you can't move any more," O'Neill said in Sydney.

"Australia and New Zealand have shifted, and all we have out of South Africa is the press release that came out, which I've held up to the light and I still don't understand it. I'm sure we'll hear more this week, but it's a very difficult negotiation.

"Inevitably you always have a plan B. Our preference is still very much a Super 15, a round and a half (24 weeks), what we call the Perth outcome," O'Neill said. "We've been absolutely consistent about that. We shifted to the Sandton option which was a compromise and we're still waiting to hear what conditions that South Africa is attaching to the Sandton option.

"But if you end up with a complete impasse, we've got a game in Australia and New Zealand that requires a big chunk of mass entertainment product. If it can't include South Africa then trans-Tasman and Asia-Pacific options have to be looked at."


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