The Super 14 will be a Super 15 from 2011, with a new-look three conference calendar stretching the Super Rugby season to 24 weeks.
There will be three five-team conferences, one based in each of the SANZAR countries with Australia by far the most likely country to benefit from an extra franchise, something that will delight ARU CEO John O'Neill no end.
The new 24-week Super Rugby competition guarantees each team a minimum of eight home matches and a 16-match regular season. A new six team finals series includes an extra round with two "sudden-death" qualifiers before the semi-finals.
All teams will have a three-week bye while the tournament is suspended during the June International Test window, while the Tri-Nations series has also been given a new time slot in the calendar to run at the conclusion of Super Rugby.
The expanded competition has a 2011 launch date, with the current broadcast agreement to expire at the end of 2010.
"It has been an intense negotiation but we believe the outcome is a very good one for rugby, for the SANZAR alliance, for our players and fans and for broadcasters," said Andy Marinos, the CEO of SANZAR.
"We were all committed to an expanded tournament and have been able to make it work, taking into account the different landscapes of our domestic game. What we have agreed upon is a competition with added domestic interest and a compelling international component that will see Super Rugby retain its status as rugby's toughest provincial competition."
Key features of the proposed new season structure are:
<LI>A 15th team playing in the Australian conference will be added to Super Rugby following a tender process open to all territories, and with SANZAR making the decision on the new side's location. A timetable for tenders will be released shortly to ensure adequate lead-in time is provided to the successful bidder.
<LI>The Tournament will kick off in the last week of February and conclude in the first week of August, except in 2011 when the calendar will be shifted earlier to accommodate Rugby World Cup.
<LI>Teams will be divided into three national Conferences of five teams each. The new team will compete in the Australian Conference.
<LI>Teams play the other four teams in their Conference twice (home and away). [img]smileys/confused.gif[/img]
<LI>Teams play four out of the five teams from the other two Conferences (four home, four away). [img]smileys/redface.gif[/img]
<LI>All teams will have a three-week bye during the June Test window.
<LI>The three Conference winners and three wildcard teams with the highest number of competition points from any Conference qualify for the play-offs.
<LI>The wildcard teams and the Conference winner with the least competition points will play an elimination round to meet the two Conference winners with the greatest number of competition points in the semi-finals. - My brain is beginning to bleed at this stage!
<LI>Tri-Nations will always kick-off in South Africa in mid-August and conclude with two of the three trans-Tasman matches in early October to allow for early release of Springboks to Currie Cup. The will allow for Tri Nations tests between particular teams in particular countries to become permanent fixtures on the rugby calendar.
Australian Rugby Union Managing Director and CEO John O'Neill was delighted with the outcome of the negotiations. - He would be, the big blowhard gobs**te!
"This new structure will enable us to further embed Super Rugby as the premier provincial competition in world Rugby," he said.
"The extended se