Legal action looming after axe falls on Force
NEWS: The Australian Rugby Union has discontinued the Western Force's Super Rugby licence, prompting an immediate threat of legal action by the franchise.
The Force - who finished second in the five-team Australian conference - becomes the third team to be axed from Super Rugby - with South Africa's Cheetahs and Southern Kings having moved north to join up with the newly revamped Pro14 competition.
The ARU said it decided to discontinue the Force's Super Rugby licence after weeks of consultation with rugby bodies and stakeholders, including government and commercial partners.
It follows a decision to trim the Southern Hemisphere competition back to 15 teams after its growth to 18, including sides in Japan and Argentina, proved unwieldy and unpopular.
Perth-based Western Force and the Melbourne Rebels, traditionally the weakest of the Australian teams, had both been warned they could face the axe after the ARU promised to move from five teams to four.
"The ARU Board has today [Friday] made the decision to discontinue the Western Force as the Super Rugby competition reverts to 15 teams for the 2018 season," ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said in a statement.
"This has been a complex process to reduce Australia's Super Rugby representation to four teams as agreed by SANZAAR following its review of the competition," he said, referring to the league's governing body.
However, this is not necessarily the end of the long-running saga, with Western Force's parent body Rugby WA likely to take the case to the Supreme Court if it wins the right to appeal.
"Rugby WA remains committed to pursuing every possible means to ensure the Western Force remains a Super Rugby team in Perth," Rugby WA said in a statement after the ARU decision.
"Rugby WA is considering all options including bringing urgent proceedings in the Supreme Court of NSW, and legal action relating to the circumstances which led it to enter into the Alliance Agreement with the ARU."
Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest has also backed a campaign to save the Force from a cull, telling the ARU his support for rugby is contingent upon the franchise remaining in a national competition.
"Whilst the board of Rugby WA is extremely disappointed with the ARU's stated position, with the support of the rugby community and numerous WA business identities including Andrew Forrest we will continue the fight to retain the Force in Western Australia," Rugby WA said.
Clyne and ARU Chief Executive Bill Pulver were due to hold a press conference to discuss their decision in Sydney later Friday.
RUGBYWA STATEMENT IN FULL:
The ARU has informed RugbyWA today that it intends to remove the Western Force from the Super Rugby Competition in 2018.
RugbyWA remains committed to pursuing every possible means to ensure the Western Force remains a Super Rugby team in Perth.
RugbyWA is considering all options including bringing urgent proceedings in the Supreme Court of NSW, and legal action relating to the circumstances which led it to enter into the Alliance Agreement with the ARU.
Whilst the board of RugbyWA is extremely disappointed with the ARU’s stated position, with the support of the Rugby community and numerous WA business identities including Mr Andrew Forrest AO we will continue the fight to retain the Force in Western Australia.
ARU STATEMENT IN FULL:
The decision comes after several weeks of consultation with Rugby bodies and stakeholders, including Government and commercial partners.
ARU Chairman, Cameron Clyne said: "The ARU Board has today made the decision to discontinue the Western Force as the Super Rugby competition reverts to fifteen teams for the 2018 season.
"This has been a complex process to reduce Australia’s Super Rugby representation to four teams as agreed by SANZAAR following its review of the competition.
"We are regretful that this issue has consumed so much of the public commentary on the game in 2017. It was clearly not our intention for this to play out over such a lengthy period however there have been factors outside the ARU’s control that have prevented us from completing the process.
"Our decision to exit the Western Force has been guided primarily by financial outcomes.
"As we have reinforced throughout this process, there are commercial realities which are linked to declining on-field performance across our Super Rugby teams which has put Australian Rugby in a position where it can no longer sustain five teams.
"Furthermore, the significant unbudgeted support funding that has been provided to Super Rugby teams over the past five years has greatly affected our capacity to invest in community Rugby.
"This is a sad day for Rugby, especially for Western Force fans. We accept that there will be anger and resentment over this decision and we sympathise with those fans. We sincerely hope that they are not lost to the game forever.
"The decision to exit the Western Force from Super Rugby is not a decision to abandon the game in Western Australia.
"Western Australia will retain an important place in Australian Rugby and the ARU will continue to support youth development programs and the community game in the West. There will be a clear pathway for young Western Australian Rugby players to reach the highest level and represent the Wallabies.
"Our immediate concern is to support the individuals at the Western Force through these difficult circumstances and we will deploy various ARU management staff to Western Australia to provide assistance to all players and staff."