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ARU plays it safe with SANZAAR partners

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 10/04/2017 Darren Walton

Australian Rugby Union chairman Cameron Clyne speaks at a press conference in Sydney on April 10, 2017. © PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images Australian Rugby Union chairman Cameron Clyne speaks at a press conference in Sydney on April 10, 2017. ARU chairman Cameron Clyne says it would be dangerously irresponsible for Australian rugby chiefs to try to bully their New Zealand counterparts into agreeing to a trans-Tasman competition.

While explaining why the ARU had to make the tough decision to cull one of Australia's five Super Rugby teams, Clyne revealed his organisation was lobbying New Zealand to support a trans-Tasman conference.

But NZRU chief executive Steve Tew rejected the proposal before the ARU endorsed reverting to a 15-team Super Rugby competition in 2018, with South Africa to also axe two franchises in addition to either the Western Force or Melbourne Rebels going.

"There was no appetite from New Zealand for a trans-Tasman competition," Clyne said.

Seemingly unaware it was the ARU's decision - not Super Rugby's rulers - to cut the Rebels or Force, former Wallabies captain Phil Kearns last month urged the ARU to show some "big cojones" and demand SANZAAR keep five Australian teams.

"If Australia called their (SANZAAR's) bluff, so let's say South Africa and New Zealand go off and play in your own tournament, let's see how quickly they get tired of that - going over the top of Australia back and forth the whole time," Kearns said.

Clyne, though, said threatening New Zealand was "a very dangerous game to play."

"You don't call a bluff unless you're prepared for the outcomes," Clyne said. NZR boss Steve Tew had rejected the proposal before the ARU endorsed reverting to a 15-team Super Rugby competition in 2018. © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images NZR boss Steve Tew had rejected the proposal before the ARU endorsed reverting to a 15-team Super Rugby competition in 2018.

"I've enjoyed the amount of people who've become neurologists in this game and made assessments about anatomical requirements.

"People say 'Australia should just tough it out, the Kiwis will never fly over the top of you to play South Africa'.

"You've got to be absolutely sure that's the case, if you're going to play that card.

"You may think it, but you don't know ... It may very well be that they do fly over the top of you.

"You may say that's a remote possibility, but that would be catastrophic for Australian rugby."

Embattled ARU chief executive Bill Pulver admitted the governing body considered every strategic option, including going alone.

"Ultimately the conclusion, if you went to a domestic-only competition, is that you would struggle to match the revenue you get today, and you would struggle to improve your high-performance outcomes," Pulver said.

"So while it's an option, we considered it's not a particularly good one."

Clyne said the ARU would continue to push the case for a trans-Tasman competition - or conference - beyond the current broadcast deal that expires at the end of 2020.

"At the end of the day there's not an appetite at the moment. When that appetite emerges, we will always continue to push it," Clyne said.

"We think it's got merit because of the time zone and fan engagement."

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