Wellington - New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew says the expansion of the Super Rugby competition from 15 to 17 teams in 2016 will not result in a longer season or more travel for competing teams.
Tew on Friday announced New Zealand's support for plans to expand the Southern Hemisphere competition by including a sixth South African team and a team from Argentina. In doing so, he tried to hose down vehement opposition from New Zealand Super Rugby coaches to the proposed changes which, they fear, will add to an already considerable burden on players.
Tew said the proposed expansion would result in a season which would be one week shorter that the current format and said the travel required of teams "will be no worse than it is now."
Tew's comments are unlikely to mollify coaches and other Super Rugby stakeholders in New Zealand who were consulted on the proposed changes to the tournament and now believe their opinions have been ignored.
Dave Rennie, coach of the Hamilton-based Chiefs, has led outspoken opposition to the changes from coaches, saying "while we've been consulted I'm not sure we're being listened to."
Rennie said New Zealand coaches opposed the current conference system which requires annual home and away derby matches between teams in each of the tournament's three regions - New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. He said they favored a full, 14-week round-robin among all 15 teams in the competition which would shorten the season by two weeks.
"The New Zealand coaches wanted a legitimate competition where everyone plays everyone," Rennie said. "All the other scenarios include more teams, more travel and more time away from home
"Their proposal has the same amount of games, but it's not necessarily in the best interests of player welfare."
David Moffett, the former chief executive of the New Zealand and Welsh rugby unions and Australia's National Rugby League, said the changes were politically motivated, designed to placate South Africa. He said the expansion would emphasise "quantity over quality."
"It's absolute insanity," Moffett said. "People will get fed up. The quality of rugby will just go down further."
Tew rejected those criticisms on Friday. He said the new format would result in a shorter competition "and, in fact, if this is all agreed we will have one less week of Super Rugby, which we think is a win for New Zealand rugby."
He also addressed skepticism about Argentina's ability to field a team of Super Rugby caliber. All of Argentina's top players play professionally in Europe and are unlikely to be available for a home-based Super Rugby side.
Tew said the establishment of a Super Rugby team in Argentina would allow them to keep their next generation of players at home.