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ARU: SANZAR breakup will hurt South Africa

SOUTH Africa will end up as the big losers if the southern hemisphere's SANZAR alliance breaks up, Australian Rugby Union Chief Executive John O'Neill said yesterday.

The partnership oversees the Tri-Nations and Super 14 rugby competitions.

O'Neill said South Africa was displaying characteristic brinkmanship in threatening to withdraw from the Southern Hemisphere partnership if Australia and New Zealand push ahead with a planned expansion in 2011.

He said South Africa would likely pull back from its current position before the partnership dissolves, but Australia and New Zealand were prepared to go ahead with a streamlined trans-Tasman partnership if South Africa withdraws.

New Zealand and Australia are pressing for an expansion in 2011 to a Super 15 competition played over 22 weeks with local conferences and a six-team finals format. O'Neill said South Africa had previously agreed to the expansion, but had withdrawn its support because of concern for its domestic competition.

Australia and New Zealand have called for a meeting with South Africa in Dublin on May 14 to resolve differences.

"If Australia and New Zealand go their own way in a competition with five teams each, and then bring in two teams from Japan, we will live well off that," O'Neill said.

"But it will be a bad state of affairs for the South Africans," he said. "They could run the risk of losing players."

O'Neill said it was typical of South Africa to take a hard line in any negotiation.

"The joint venture must remain intact," he said. "I have dealt with the South Africans for years in business and sport. Part of their DNA is to take it to the brink.

"There's a moment when they will realize they have taken it far enough. Usually it's on the steps of the court."

O'Neill said the current impasse, which threatens the June 30 start of negotiations for a new television deal to cover the Super 14 and Tri-Nations, was largely due to South Africa's tactics.

South Africa would eventually realize New Zealand and Australia had given all they could at the negotiating table. They would then "look in the mirror" and "we will all be one big happy family again," he said.


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