JOHANNESBURG: The South African Rugby Union has asked Australia and New Zealand for more time to prepare its argument for the expansion of the Super Rugby and avoid the embarrassment of having to relegate one of its own teams.
SARU has written to its SANZAR counterparts to request more time "to prepare additional options" in an attempt to convince them to agree to a 16-team southern hemisphere tournament from next year.
SARU is facing a rebellion from its five Super Rugby teams after promising a new South African franchise a place in the 2013 competition without organisers having agreed to an expanded tournament.
SANZAR has said it is not in a position for further expansion after adding Australia's Melbourne Rebels to make a 15-team tournament at the start of last season, giving each country five representatives. It also broke the championship up into three national conferences and changed the structure of the playoffs.
The ruling body argues it has sold the current format to broadcasters and sponsors until 2015 and said the season is already demanding. This year it runs from February 24 to August 4, long for a rugby competition, with a month's break in June for internationals.
South Africa's five incumbents - the three-time champion Bulls, the Stormers, Sharks, Lions and Cheetahs - made it clear in a joint letter to SARU last month that they would not accept any of their places being "compromised" by the inclusion of the Port Elizabeth-based Southern Kings.
There have already been reports in South Africa of a boycott threat from the five teams should one of them be removed to make way for the Kings. SARU denies those reports but it's clear that there is an uneasy relationship between the union and the teams.
A delegation, made up of officials from SARU and four of the teams, was due to travel to Australasia on Saturday to argue for six places for South Africa.
But although SARU chief executive Jurie Roux and deputy president Mark Alexander would still attend scheduled SANZAR meetings this month, a formal presentation for the expansion of the Super 15 has been put on hold.
"This is an important issue for South African rugby and we need to ensure that we have covered all bases," Roux said. "We have two options for our partners to consider but are completing work on a further two. If that takes a week or two more then we're happy to take that time."
SARU said Roux and Alexander would also "discuss with Australia and New Zealand the principles of expansion in advance of the formal presentation", meaning there would likely be frenzied lobbying by the pair to win over the other two countries.
SARU's argument could be aided by South African broadcaster Supersport reportedly paying more to SANZAR for broadcast rights for the Super 15 than Fox in Australia and Sky TV in New Zealand.
South Africa also has bigger rugby audiences, both at its stadiums and for TV, which could give the country bargaining power.