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Rugby-S.Africa exit, Super Rugby expansion reports ‘wrong’ – SANZAAR

SYDNEY, May 7 (Reuters) - Southern hemisphere rugby's governing body on Monday dismissed as "simply wrong" media speculation that South Africa's Super Rugby teams were set to defect to Europe and that expanding the competition into the United States was on the cards.

SANZAAR, the body owned by the South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina unions, and which also runs the Rugby Championship, said the organisation was in the middle of a detailed strategic review.

While it was engaged in some “blue-sky thinking” as it looked at potential future formats for their competitions up to 2030, SANZAAR said, there was no question of any of the four major stakeholders leaving the joint venture.

“As part of this process the member unions have fully committed to the strategy and their future participation,” said chief executive Andy Marinos.

“Any talk of a change to the stakeholder relationship and partners withdrawing, creation of new teams in new markets and Trans-Tasman competitions is unsubstantiated speculation and simply wrong.”

Super Rugby was forced to contract from 18 to 15 teams for this season, an admission that a three-team expansion in 2016 had been a failure on pretty much all levels.

The two South African teams axed, the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs and Port Elizabeth side the Southern Kings, subsequently joined the Pro-14 league in Europe and reports at the weekend suggested more sides were set to follow.

Last week, part of the SANZAAR review was leaked to the Sydney Morning Herald, who extrapolated from the discussions of expansion that the United States was a target for new teams.

“It is very disappointing that various aspects of the initial work in terms of potential tournament formats been taken out of context and aired in public,” Marinos added.

“Potential expansion into new markets for example should not be confused with only an increase in teams. We are already in the process of taking the established product to new markets.

“Matches being played in Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji and Samoa are examples of this.

“We are especially mindful at present that we have just come out of a process that has seen a contraction of Super Rugby. The introduction of new teams or any form of expansion would need to meet a defined set of criteria that have been established.” DM

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