Cheetahs facing Super Rugby axe?

The Cheetahs are one of three teams who could lose their Super Rugby status if the competition is reduced from 18 to 15 teams next year.

A motion to cut three teams from the tournament was put forward at a Sanzaar meeting in London on Friday, and according to reports, New Zealand Rugby has given its backing to the Jaguares and Sunwolves and proposed that two South African teams and an Australian side get axed instead.

Any Super Rugby changes require a unanimous vote by all national unions. It is believed neither the Australian Rugby Union nor SA Rugby vetoed NZR’s proposal, and that a decision has been reached and will be announced in the coming days.

The Kings finished 17th on last year's combined 18-team Super Rugby log and are clearly South Africa's weakest franchise again this year.

According to Rapport newspaper, the Cheetahs' position is weakened because they don't have the economic power of the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers regions.

For example, if only 10% of potential rugby viewers in and around Pretoria attended a match at Loftus, the stadium could be filled six times over. In contrast, 10% of potential rugby viewers in and around Bloemfontein would only attract about 15,000 to Free State Stadium.

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While the Australian side to be cut is a toss-up between the Force and Rebels, the most likely scenario from a South African point of view is that the Cheetahs and the Kings will fall victim to the new Super Rugby model.

Sanzaar and SA Rugby have dismissed the claim as mere speculation.

'Following two days of robust discussion, there are a number of tournament considerations that now require further discussion and consultation,' said Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos. 'This includes final consultation within the national unions and discussion with key stakeholders that would allow the adoption of changes proposed by the strategic plan.

'Sanzaar will make a formal statement on the future of the organisation, Super Rugby and the tournament format in the coming days once these further meetings have been concluded.'

Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images

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Mariette Adams