CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Super Rugby's governing body SANZAAR's move to cull three teams from the competition is necessary though it may still stop short of what had been the tournament's optimum format, said South African Rugby CEO Jurie Roux.
The Southern Hemisphere club championship will see two teams from South Africa and one from Australia cut for next year, bringing the number of competing sides down to 15.
But Roux said he believed that it was still too many and said the tournament should probably have never been expanded from the 12-team format that was played between 1996 and 2005. He said pressure from broadcaster hungry for more matches had partly driven the earlier expansions.
"The ultimate competition probably was Super 12 and to be honest we should have probably never moved from it, but there were different reasons," Roux told SuperSport late on Wednesday.
"I'm sad to say that a lot of (the expansion) was due to driving revenue and there were some political decisions that drove the process. It has ended up being a competition that if we don’t change it, we will have serious issues.”
South Africa will see its number of teams cut from six to four, with the identity of the sides to drop out to be made known by the end of June.
Roux said SA Rugby did not have the depth and quality of players to sustain six Super Rugby franchises.
"We are now at a time where the economic reality of this country, the rugby economic reality of this country, says we cannot sustain six franchises," Roux said.
"Everybody can say what they want, look at the results and you’ll know that we can’t."
Critics of the expanded format say the increased number of teams has hurt the quality of matches as teams had to find players from a wider pool.
Having originally driven the competition's enlargement, Roux said broadcasters disappointed in the quality of games over the past two seasons had applied pressure for an end to the 18-team format.
The competition had also become confusing with not all 18 teams able to play each other, Roux said.
"So, on the back-end of that and on the back-end of broadcasters telling us that they're not happy with the product and that they want immediate change – or else we will have some contractual issues going forward – we had no choice but to look at (changing) the competition earlier than what we wanted to."
(Reporting by Nick Said; editing by Richard Lough)