South African clubs in Super Rugby spotlight in 13th round

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) The form of South African teams will be a focus of the 13th round of Super Rugby as their future in the tournament remains uncertain.

Organizing body SANZAAR dismissed a British report this week that the four South African teams – the Lions, Bulls, Sharks and Stormers – will quit Super Rugby to join Europe’s PRO14 tournament when current participation agreements end in 2019.

While one team boss, the Sharks Gary Teichmann, supported the SANZAAR position and said no talks had taken place with PRO14 organizers, another – the Lions Kevin de Klerk – said financial considerations would influence any future South African decisions.

South African teams would likely earn more through broadcast rights by playing in Europe than in the mainly southern hemisphere competition and the timing of matches would be more suitable for South African television audiences. De Klerk said the terms of a new SANZAAR broadcast deal, to be negotiated in 2019, would be influential.

”Maybe ultimately, the (money) on offer in Europe will influence the decision,” de Klerk said. ”When this broadcasting deal comes to an end, there’s going to need to be some close negotiations with SANZAAR. From my point of view I would like to see South Africa remain in Super Rugby but the European currency is making it difficult.”

The prospect of a South African exodus has been made more concerning for Super Rugby organizers by the strong form of its teams this season and the poor form of the four Australian clubs. A tournament containing only teams from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Argentina would likely be of less appeal to international broadcasters.

In recent seasons the poor performances of South African teams was relieved only by the Johannesburg-based Lions who reached the final in each of the last two years. But that has changed.

The Bulls, Sharks – and the Argentina-based Jaguares – have beaten New Zealand teams this season, outperforming the Australians clubs which combined have lost their last 38 matches against Kiwi opponents.

The South African conference, led by the Lions and also including the Jaguares, has become intensely competitive and all five teams technically remain in playoffs contention.

The Lions have a chance to increase their lead this weekend when they travel to Dunedin to take on the Highlanders, who have a short turnaround after last weekend’s 38-12 loss to the Sharks in Durban.

The Stormers have their best chance to beat a New Zealand team this season when they host the injury-ravaged Chiefs, who were beaten at home last weekend by the Jaguares. The Cape Town-based Stormers still have a chance of reaching the playoffs and face matches against the Sunwolves, Jaguares and Lions before the international break.

”We still don’t think our chances of winning our conference are over by a long way,” assistant coach Paul Feeney said. ”We still think first place is up for grabs for a home quarterfinal. Our future is in our hands still.”

The Bulls host the Sharks in Pretoria in a match which takes on a grudge element after the Bulls beat the Sharks 40-10 in round nine.

In other matches, the Christchurch-based Crusaders are expected to extend New Zealand’s winning streak against Australian sides when they play the New South Wales Waratahs. The Waratahs had a chance to end the trans-Tasman losing streak when they played the Auckland-based Blues last weekend but they lost 24-21 at home – to the last-place team in the New Zealand conference.

The Hurricanes, who announced the signing of former All Blacks flyhalf Carlos Spencer as an assistant coach from next season, face the Blues, the ACT Brumbies play the Melbourne Rebels and the Sunwolves host the Queensland Reds.