Aus­tralia’s Su­per Rugby cull heads to ar­bi­tra­tion

Daily News - - SPORT -

SYD­NEY: The Aus­tralian Rugby Union’s messy and pro­tracted process of ax­ing one of its five Su­per Rugby teams en­ters a po­ten­tially de­ci­sive phase to­day, when the gov­ern­ing body and the West­ern Force go into ar­bi­tra­tion.

The ARU said in mid-April that the Perth-based Force or Mel­bourne Rebels would be culled, along with two teams from South Africa, to al­low the south­ern hemi­sphere com­pe­ti­tion to con­tract from 18 back to 15 sides for the 2018 sea­son.

Their ini­tial hopes of an an­nounce­ment within “48 to 72 hours” were quickly dashed when the Force, over­whelm­ing favourites for the chop, launched le­gal ac­tion to de­fend their po­si­tion.

The Rebels were al­ways un­likely to be closed down, given that it would cost any­thing up to A$13 mil­lion (about R135-mil­lion) to buy out the fran­chise’s pri­vate owner and pay back the Vic­to­rian state gov­ern­ment for their in­vest­ment in the game.

That re­mains a pro­hib­i­tive sum, given the cull was ini­tially em­barked upon as a cost-cut­ting ex­er­cise, aimed at al­low­ing the ARU to fo­cus in­vest­ment and tal­ent on the re­main­ing four teams, as well as the strug­gling grass roots.

The Force con­cluded their Su­per Rugby sea­son with an emo­tional 40-11 vic­tory over New South Wales Waratahs. Af­ter the match, An­drew For­rest, one of Aus­tralia’s rich­est men, came down onto the pitch to pledge his sup­port.

Re­gard­less of how or whether the ini­tia­tive works, any back­ing for the Force is po­ten­tially bad news for the cash-strapped ARU, who are al­ready fac­ing mount­ing le­gal bills.

Their lawyers should be pre­pared for an even big­ger wind­fall should the ar­bi­tra­tors find in favour of the Force and their con­tention that they were guar­an­teed Su­per Rugby un­til 2020 un­der the terms of an ARU takeover last year. – Reuters

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