No backdown on super rugby bid

No backdown on super rugby bid
Coastal Sharks Francois Steyn (L) tackles Auckland Blues Ma'a Nonu (R) during their Super 15 rugby union match at Albany Stadium in Auckland on May 23, 2014.

SINGAPORE - Singapore will push ahead with its ambitious bid to host a Super Rugby franchise, even after Asia's top rugby official said last week that the continent lacked the financial means to field a team in the prestigious club competition.

The Straits Times has learnt that the Republic has lodged an official expression of interest with Super Rugby officials - the first step towards bidding to enter the Southern Hemisphere showpiece.

A bid is expected to be submitted by the end of next month.

Senior rugby officials from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will be in town for the inaugural World Club 10s championship from June 21-22 to assess the sport's popularity and facilities at the new National Stadium.

The facility could serve as the headquarters of the prospective Super Rugby outfit.

Sources said the Auckland Blues, who boast several All Blacks including Jerome Kaino, Ma'a Nonu and Tony Woodcock, have also expressed an interest in playing some of their home games at the 55,000-seat Kallang facility.

On May 22, Asian Rugby Football Union president Trevor Gregory told Reuters that no single union or sponsor in the region was willing to underwrite the US$100 million (S$125 million), five-year cost of hosting a Super Rugby franchise.

With five clubs each from the rugby powerhouses of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, travel expenses can run high due to the home-and-away, mini-league format. The last expansion side, the Melbourne Rebels in 2011, reportedly spent US$20 million in addition to start-up costs in their first season after several players charged a premium to relocate. But Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) president Low Teo Ping said the country's bid is financially sound and backed by Hong Kong-based Carinat Sports Marketing.

It owns Asia Pacific Dragons, an invitational side that showcase the region's best players.

Low added: "There is not a cent of financial commitment from the SRU.

"We will sanction the bid and affiliate ourselves with the new team while Carinat has the investors."

Carinat managing director Jon Phelps told The Straits Times he could not comment after signing a confidentiality agreement with Super Rugby officials.

The elite 15-a-side competition will expand from 15 to 18 clubs in 2016.

A sixth South African side and a new club from Argentina will fill two of the new spots, leaving one place up for grabs.

Singapore and Japan are tipped as Asia's front-runners for the slot.

However, organisers are also understood to be considering teams from England and France.

If Singapore's bid is successful, fans can expect at least five Super Rugby matches each year at the National Stadium.

The SRU will also bid to be a part of the Sevens World Series in 2015-16 and host the 2018 World Cup Sevens tournament.

This article was first published on May 28, 2014.
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