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South Africa Rugby chief drops broad hint that PRO16 move is on the cards as he warns rugby is facing big changes

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SARU CEO Jurie Roux is trying to sort out the future of South Africa's club scene, with the current Super Rugby structure looking likely to end. Photo by Carl Fourie/Sportsfile

SARU CEO Jurie Roux is trying to sort out the future of South Africa's club scene, with the current Super Rugby structure looking likely to end. Photo by Carl Fourie/Sportsfile

SARU CEO Jurie Roux is trying to sort out the future of South Africa's club scene, with the current Super Rugby structure looking likely to end. Photo by Carl Fourie/Sportsfile

South Africa are not yet ready to throw their eggs into the European basket despite New Zealand Rugby announcing plans to abandon the current Super Rugby format from next season in a move that would threaten the long-standing SANZAAR alignment between the Southern Hemisphere heavyweights.

It is widely expected that the four top South African Super Rugby franchises will join an expanded Guinness PRO16, replacing the existing Southern Kings and Cheetahs sides.

And while he would not confirm the body's contingency plans, SA Rugby chief Jurie Roux, who sits on the Celtic Rugby board along with Rassie Erasmus, told a media conference it is "a long way down the road" in investigating its options.

The deal may rest on the South African sides, the Lions, Stormers, Sharks and Bulls, gaining access to the EPCR-run Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup - a move that would require consent from the French and English leagues.

However, Roux is not yet ready to abandon the idea of a Super Rugby tournament including the South African sides and Argentina's Jaguares continuing in some form in 2021.

"I wouldn’t be doing my job not to look at plan B or plan C," he said. "I’ve been doing that for a long time and there are a few options on the table.

"We can’t touch on that just yet, but it is a long way down the road in terms of having different options that will probably suit us better, and which will help us build towards the direction we think we probably need to head towards over the next few years.

"So, we are making plans, but there’s nothing to announce right now, and we have to weigh up options in the Sanzaar environment.

"We’ve obviously seen New Zealand’s preferred structure for 2021, and to be fair to them we have been informed of their planning process.

"Given Covid-19, with projections of costings and travel restriction, the indication was that neither South Africa nor Argentina teams would be able to travel there until at least the end of May without undergoing a quarantine period.

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"Every team would have needed to go there two weeks ahead of time … That’s not a viable option and the New Zealand government hasn’t given approval for that sort of thing to happen anyway as yet.

"So, the plan from New Zealand was for there to be a domestic competition first before a crossover competition could become something to discuss. So we haven’t been kicked out of Super Rugby. New Zealand has every right to determine its immediate future, but there is a very legal and binding agreement with the Sanzaar alliance, and anyone in breach of that would put themselves in a position to be held liable."

Roux accepted that the coronavirus shut-down will bring about big changes in the way rugby is structured.

"The world of rugby is currently trying to get 2020 out of the way, that’s probably the best way to describe it, either by finishing off competitions or beginning to look towards the 2020-21 season, and what they will look like," he said.

"If anyone thinks rugby, and particularly international and domestic rugby, will return to any format that’s close to the format that existed at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020, you’d be making a big mistake and so would we.

"The market has corrected itself, and that was due anyway. In terms of pay TV and structures around broadcasting, and the way we consume rugby, a change was due, and we will undergo that change now due to Covid.

"Ultimately, we can’t project what rugby will look like in years to come, and to do that would be very bold and brave, because the only thing you can be sure of is that there will be change … we’re in flux."


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