* SANZAAR tight-lipped on changes
* Final consultations needed before announcement
* Western Force coach against cutting Australian teams (Recasts, adds Western Force coach quotes, changes dateline)
MELBOURNE, March 11 (Reuters) - Super Rugby’s future structure and format will be announced in “coming days”, governing body SANZAAR said on Saturday following a meeting in London to set the troubled competition’s direction.
SANZAAR said the announcement would follow “final consultations” within the participating rugby unions from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina for the adoption of changes proposed in a strategic review.
“SANZAAR will make a formal statement on the future of the organisation, Super Rugby and the tournament format in the coming days once these further meetings have been concluded,” SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said in a statement.
SANZAAR commissioned an independent review after Super Rugby’s expansion to 18 teams and division into three conferences last year generated widespread dissatisfaction from participating unions, fans and media.
The expansion broke new markets with the addition of teams from Argentina and Japan, but also resulted in more lop-sided matches and a much-criticised playoffs system that gave home advantage to some teams at the expense of others with better regular season records.
The strategic review suggested cutting the number of teams among its proposals, according to media reports, and the Australian Rugby Union is under pressure to jettison one of its five franchises to shore up its finances and consolidate playing stocks.
South Africa, which added a sixth team last year when the Southern Kings re-joined the competition, is also seen as vulnerable in any cull.
Media speculation in Australia has swirled around the viability of the Perth-based Western Force and Melbourne Rebels, which compete outside the country’s traditional rugby heartland and have never qualified for the playoffs.
Force coach David Wessels agreed the competition needed to be shaken up but said cutting Australia’s teams was not the panacea.
“It’s hard for fans to follow and I think it’s not equitable that not all teams play each other -- that’s a funny competition,” he told local media.
”I‘m not sure that the five teams is at the root cause of our challenges.
”I think our challenges are around pathway development, coach development.
“I think reshuffling the deck chairs with the number of teams would be very sad because I‘m not sure we’ve addressed the root cause of the issue.”
Although the current season has retained last year’s much-maligned format, decisions taken at the London meeting could be introduced in time for next year.
But with the four rival rugby unions holding clashing agendas in what is effectively a joint venture, and a broadcast deal that runs until 2020, the final decision might be more of the status quo. (Reporting by Ian Ransom and Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford/Amlan Chakraborty)