So the rumours begin... South Africa threatens to quit Super 14 By Wayne Smith February 17, 2009 AUSTRALIA would be well advised to make contingency plans for a trans-Tasman competition also involving Japan to cover the shock withdrawal of South African teams from the Super 14. The upper echelons of Australia and New Zealand rugby are buzzing with the rumour that South Africa is negotiating to take its five teams - the Bulls, Stormers, Sharks, Cheetahs and Lions -out of the southern hemisphere competition once the SANZAR broadcast agreement expires next year and put them into the Magners League. Former South African Rugby managing director Rian Oberholzer, the man rumoured to be negotiating with the Magners League - the old Celtic League involving 10 major provincial teams from Ireland, Wales and Scotland - told The Australian he had no involvement in such a scheme. But even if that is true, there would be little comfort in his denial for Australia and New Zealand. It was Oberholzer who helped negotiate South Africa's entry into an expanded Celtic League contest called the Rainbow Cup back in 2005, the year the SANZAR broadcast deal was signed. Australia and New Zealand were kept in the dark about those negotiations, eventually forcing former South African Rugby president Brian van Rooyen to confirm the rumours over the board table at a SANZAR summit. The Rainbow Cup fell over without a ball ever being kicked as a result of financial difficulties at the European end, but ever since the two trans-Tasman neighbours have been bracing themselves for another attempt by South Africa to gatecrash the Magners League, the only provincial-based series among the major European competitions. Certainly they have been on full alert in recent months with the clock ticking down to the June 30 deadline when SANZAR must present its proposal for an ongoing southern hemisphere competition to its major broadcast partner, News Corporation. Every time a broadcast deal draws near, South Africa turns up the volume on its ongoing complaint about how its teams are disadvantaged by all the extra travelling they are forced to do in the Super 14. There still would be some long flights involved in getting to Britain but at least they would still be in the same time zone. And of course that's the bottom line. Same time zone means larger television audiences back in South Africa and that converts to more money. The rugby wouldn't be as good but the bottom line would be a whole lot healthier. Interestingly, there is no talk whatever of South Africa withdrawing from the Tri-Nations, recognising that SANZAR members have won every World Cup except in 2003. So it would seem that whoever is running South African rugby at the moment - and no one in this part of the world is entirely sure who that is because there seem to be two factions vying for supremacy - isn't entirely driven by money. At the moment it is understood all of Australia's energies are being channelled into an expanded 15-team competition to be played out on the "Cadbury" model of a round-and-a-half of full-cream rugby. Should the grim economic climate make that unworkable - and SANZAR must be kicking itself that this broadcast deal wasn't scheduled for renegotiation last year - then the plan is to stick with the status quo of a Super 14. But it would be madness for Australia and New Zealand not to at least prepare a worst-case scenario plan that takes into account South Africa's withdrawal from Super 14. The most likely replacement would be a trans-Tasman competition also involving Japan. From a pure rugby perspective it would make sense to also bring in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa and even Argentina but in hard economic times, that's not likely to happen. It goes without saying that any proposal not involving South Africa is going to take a massive dollar hit from the broadcasters. But, ironically, Australia might actually do better out of such a deal than it does from an "all systems go" Super 15. South Africa gobbles up around $8 million of SANZAR's annual $11 million transport and accommodation budget. What's more, although the three SANZAR partners share an equal one-third of costs, Australia is allocated only a quarter of the income. South Africa, which also diverts 95 per cent of SuperSport's television money flow to the sport directly into its own coffers, takes the lion's share of the SANZAR spoils. And rumour has it that it wants more, a 45 per cent cut of the pie. So there might very well be an element of "good riddance" if South Africa does decide to redirect its Lions, Cheetahs, Bulls, Sharks and Stormers elsewhere. One thing is certain. There will be some fairly blunt exchanges at the next SANZAR board meeting in Dubai on March 4.