Super Rugby
O'Neill losing patience with South Africa
April 20, 2009
John O'Neill, player portrait, July 18, 2008
Australian Rugby Union boss John O'Neill has tired of South Africa's stalling over expansion plans © Getty Images

Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chief executive John O'Neill is fast losing patience with South Africa's stalling over Super rugby expansion plans, and hasn't ruled out going it alone with New Zealand.

Reports that the South African Rugby Union (Saru) is expected to sign off on a later start for its domestic Currie Cup competition to allow an expanded Super competition is being treated with caution by O'Neill. And he remains frustrated that negotiations seem to be moving at a snail's pace.

"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 today.

"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."

Discussions between the Sanzar nations in Perth and Johannesburg have yet to confirm an expanded competition for 2011. The sticking point remains the Currie Cup, for which broadcasting rights have already been sold and Saru has said its provinces are reluctant to shift.

The Herald on Sunday newspaper yesterday reported plans had been drawn to break the Currie Cup into a top pool of six teams and another of eight teams and push the start back from early July to late July.

If approved by Saru, it would allow Super 14 to become Super 15 and be broken into three geographic conferences. It would start in early March and end in early August, which was a non-negotiable for New Zealand and Australia.

While New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) chief executive Steve Tew said a compromise wasn't ideal, but was potentially a workable and innovative solution, O'Neill remained unmoved.

"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."

O'Neill is also confident the Wallabies can clean sweep the Home Nations after announcing they are close to agreeing the return of the 'grand slam' tour following a 25-year absence.

O'Neill is hopeful England will agree to play Australia at Twickenham on November 7 following Tests against Wales, Ireland and Scotland - reviving memories of the famous 1984 tour in which Australia won all four Tests under Alan Jones.

O'Neill believes the Wallabies can repeat history a quarter of a century later. "There's no reason why not," he said. "I really think the way this team is developing off the back of last year, that a clean sweep will be on the cards.

"It won't be easy but with the talent that is coming through - Robbie's (coach Robbie Deans) been on deck now for a full year - so I think a grand slam repeat 25 years on would be a very, very significant achievement."

Deans was more reserved, pointing out the Wallabies have a packed calendar to work through before turning their thoughts to the grand slam. "There will be references made to '84 and things that have gone before," he noted. "It's going to be a fantastic challenge but you can only deal with challenges as they present themselves and that's what we'll do."

O'Neill revealed the return of the grand slam tour had long been a dream of his, with England the missing piece in the plan. "We've had a couple of cracks in the past and all sorts of things have got in the way but the penny dropped with me last year that we had the other three and were only missing England, the home of rugby," he said.

"I had a chat to (Rugby Football Union chief executive) Francis Baron and it fell into place. It's a really good game for them to put into their itinerary. I think the world economic recession has focused the minds. They're not alone in wanting to get more inventory and we were happy to accommodate them."


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