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Rebels CEO sacked as cash woes deepen

SPOTLIGHT: Melbourne’s hopes of surviving beyond the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season have been dealt a hammer blow with administrative staff and CEO Baden Stephenson axed by the financially stricken franchise.

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High-performance staff, including head coach Kevin Foote and general manager of football Nick Stiles, have also been been put on four-month Rugby Australia contracts to see out the season.

The contracts of high-profile recruit and star Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou, as well as the other players, remain valid given they are tied to Rugby Australia.

The Rebels went into voluntary administration earlier this month with debts reportedly exceeding AUS$9 million.

But administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers discovered the situation was much worse than initially feared with the total debt reportedly closer to AUS$20 million, and began terminating employees on Tuesday.

“I’m fine, but I really feel for the staff,” Stephenson, CEO of the Rebels since 2017, told AAP.

“The reaction and character of players and staff makes me proud of the calibre of people at the Rebels.”

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Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh sidestepped questions of the Rebels at Wednesday’s competition launch in Auckland.

But Super Rugby Pacific chairman Kevin Malloy indicated the Rebels’ plight had fast-tracked a review of the competition initially slated for 2026.

“Logically 2026 has been the time frame with media rights cycles and that sort of thing, so [that’s when] we would think about if there would be any material change in the competition,” he told reporters.

“Clearly what’s happened with the Rebels has just brought that conversation forward slightly.

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“There’s always going to be a review on how it accelerated to the point it’s at.”

The team’s trial game against Fijian Drua on Friday is set to go ahead while all teams will gather in Melbourne for Super Round for six games between March 1-3.

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