SYDNEY, April 9 (Reuters) - Three teams, one from Australia and two from South Africa, will be axed from Super Rugby as the mainly southern hemisphere competition reverts to 15 teams for next season, governing body SANZAAR said on Sunday.
The South African and Australian unions will make the decision over which of their teams will go, but the Perth-based Western Force, Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs and Kings are the three franchises most vulnerable to the axe.
"This restructuring by SANZAAR represents a crucial step in its strategic planning process that has included a comprehensive assessment of the economic and sporting environment," said a SANZAAR statement.
The restructuring comes after widespread criticism of the first season of the 18-team format, which was introduced in 2016 after Argentina's Jaguares and the Sunwolves of Japan joined the competition and the Port Elizabeth-based Kings returned.
SANZAAR, made up of the South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentine unions, met in London last month to try to hammer out a solution to the problems of an over-complicated structure and a dilution in the quality of the product.
Negotiations with broadcasters, who agreed a four-year deal in 2016, and other stakeholders followed amidst a fury of speculation and uncertainty before the decision was announced on Sunday.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford