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Australia's uncertain Super Rugby future

NZN 12/03/2017 Darren Walton

Under siege amid uncertain shake-ups to the competition's complex format, Australia's Super Rugby franchises did themselves few favours on another weekend of near misses and flops.

The Brumbies were Australia's only winners, wrestling the conference lead from the Western Force with a dour 25-17 victory over the Perth outfit in Canberra.

But the Queensland Reds, Force, NSW Waratahs and last-placed Melbourne Rebels all languish in the bottom eight as SANZAAR, the competition's ruling body, sharpens the knife amid talk of the competition being slashed from 18 teams to 15.

While remaining tight-lipped about specific recommendations, SANZAAR boss Andy Marinos said a preferred format had been decided on and would be revealed in "coming days" following robust discussions in London between the four unions from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina.

"There are a number of tournament considerations that now require further discussion and consultation," Marinos said.

"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."

It's believed New Zealand, who filled four finals places in 2016 and provided the champions in the Hurricanes, have lobbied hard for the removal of one of Australia's five teams and two of South Africa's six.

With NSW and Queensland, Australia's two oldest and most established franchises, presumably safe, such a scenario would leave the Brumbies, Force and Rebels in the firing line.

If one must go, it'd be the ARU 's call.

The Brumbies are Australia's most accomplished Super Rugby outfit, with titles in 2001 and 2004, four other grand finals and conference honours in 2016.

But they are a club in off-field turmoil and financial peril.

The Rebels, while financially independent, have yet to succeed on the field while competing in a sporting market where AFL is - and always will be - king.

In 10 years, the Force - with financial troubles of their own - are also yet to make the finals while trying to grow the game in the west.

Australia's disappointing start to the 2017 season, including just one win from eight matches against overseas competition, isn't helping the seemingly forlorn hopes of sustaining five teams.

The Waratahs will host the Brumbies in a vital derby on Saturday night after returning home from South Africa without a solitary competition point for the first time in 21 years of the tournament.

The Tahs' 37-14 loss to the Sharks in Durban followed a 55-36 thrashing from the Lions in Johannesburg.

The Brumbies were far from impressive in battling past the Force, while the Reds let a 17-0 lead slip to fall 22-20 to the Crusaders in Brisbane.

Like the Brumbies, Waratahs and Force, the Reds are now one from three.

After a bye, the Rebels, smashed in the opening two rounds, are dead last.

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