- Argentina - Australia - New Zealand - rugby - South Africa - Tri-Nations
AFP - The southern hemisphere provincial Super rugby series will become a 15-team competition in 2011 and Argentina is moving closer to playing in the Tri-Nations, SANZAR said Thursday.
A SANZAR board meeting in Dubai resolved the expanded competition would include three five-team conferences, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, SANZAR said in a press release.
Australia will be a front-runner for the extra Super rugby franchise to be on parity with South Africa and New Zealand, who currently have five teams each.
The board also stated an intent for Argentina to join the Tri-Nations from 2012.
Argentina has been seeking entry to an elite tournament but has so far been unsuccessful in joining Europe's Six Nations or the Tri-Nations.
The Pumas are ranked fourth in the world and finished third at the 2007 World Cup, but say they have been held back by their lack of regular top-flight competition.
"The executive committee also considered a further report from Argentina and has asked the working party to perform further analysis on the viability of Argentina joining the Tri-Nations," Sanzar said in a statement.
In other SANZAR developments, the proposed Super 15 would start later in the year, probably early March, and would contain one full round plus an extra round of local derbies between teams within each conference.
It was also decided that the finals would be extended to six teams.
The chances of a Japan-based Super rugby team have faded with 2015-2016 looking likely to be the next stage of expansion.
Australian Rugby Union Managing Director John O'Neill, who attended the board meeting and is pressing for a fifth Australian franchise, said there was a possibility of a "hybrid team" including Pacific Islanders, Australian ex-pats and rugby league converts.
"I think a hybrid team with Australians, Pacific Islanders and the odd rugby league player, and that could provide a very competitive team," O'Neill said Thursday.
"We would have to be careful to ensure the existing four (Australian) franchises would not be diminished in any way."
But Australia is expected to be challenged for the 15th spot by South Africa and New Zealand.
South African officials want a team - the Southern Kings - from the Eastern Cape to play in the Australian conference, reports said.
O'Neill reported the NZRU said some of their provinces may also nominate but he believed it should be the domain of Australia.
"The thing I keep coming back to is that the fifth team will play in the Australian conference," he said. "It really doesn't make sense for an Eastern Cape to fit into an Australian conference."