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'Absolute devastation': RA set for court battle over Rebels axing

REACTION: A legal battle looms between Rugby Australia and the consortium who planned to save the Melbourne Rebels, with the Super Rugby Pacific franchise to be shut down after 14 seasons.

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Five months after the Rebels entered voluntary administration, Rugby Australia broke the news before players boarded a plane to Fiji for the final round of the competition.

Beyond that, the side, currently seventh on the ladder, is preparing for their first-ever finals campaign next month.

Rebels coach Kevin Foote told AAP the players were motivated to finish on a high.

“Deadly silent, just absolute devastation, no one said a word,” Foote said of the players’ reaction.

“We said we’ve really got the opportunity to finish strong. We’re going to hold our heads high and have a crack.”

The story continues below…

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'Absolute devastation': RA set for court battle over Rebels axing

Melbourne have been in voluntary administration since January with debts owed to creditors exceeding AUS$23 million.

RA CEO Phil Waugh and chairman Daniel Herbert fronted media to explain why they had rejected a rescue package put forward by a group led by business heavyweight Leigh Clifford.

Herbert said the consortium, which claimed to have AUS$18 million in committed funding, provided too little detail in the plan which RA believed carried “unacceptable risk”.

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RA claimed the consortium wouldn’t even identify its members to allow the governing body to assess their credentials.

“We’ve been waiting for some time to allow the consortium to get as much detailed and accurate information to us to make a decision and that wasn’t forthcoming to the satisfaction of what we would deem a reasonable level of risk,” Herbert said.

“It was clear through even their very ambitious financial modelling that there would need to be a very high risk of RA again stepping in to have to contribute large amounts of money to keep the club going.”

Herbert blamed the board of the Rebels for the dire financial situation which led to their axing.

“They’ve let rugby stakeholders in Victoria down and rugby stakeholders broadly,” he said.

“We are now six years away from where Rugby Australia paid AUS$13.8 million towards Rebels debts back in 2017 and gave an additional AUS$6 million of funding.

“There’s been tens of millions of dollars that has been spent on this franchise over and above other Super Rugby teams.”

The consortium issued a statement saying they would pursue legal action against RA and that the plan, which included relocating to Tarneit, 30km west of the Melbourne CBD, was viable.

“This was a credible, financially viable and sustainable plan, vetted independently,” Clifford said.

“The Melbourne Rebels never want to go to court, but Rugby Australia’s actions to turn their backs and not negotiate on a common sense AUS$18 million rescue plan has left the club no choice.”

Herbert said RA didn’t want a court battle but intended to stand their ground.

“Our response is every dollar spent on lawyers is money not spent on rugby and the community and the programs and other Super Rugby teams, it is not our preference,” he said.

Waugh said RA and the Rugby Union Players Association were working on relocating the men’s players to other Australian franchises for next season.

A decision on the women’s Rebels team would be made later in the year while they will work with Rugby Victoria on junior pathway programs.

Waugh was confident a deal remained on the table for the state to host the semifinals or the final of the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

Melbourne will host a British and Irish Lions Test next year as well as a touring match, that was to be against the Rebels.

“We’re very committed to working with Visit Victoria, the Victorian government,” Waugh said.

International rugby has been very, very successful in Victoria for a long, long time and we’re confident it will continue to be that way.”

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