The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) expect to make a final decision on which Australian team will be cut from Super Rugby in the next three days, as ARU CEO Bill Pulver admitted the 2016 expansion was a ‘mistake’.
The national body announced on Monday that the decision would be made between the Force and the Rebels, with the Brumbies officially in the clear after meeting financial and on-field criteria.
Despite the ARU board meeting on Sunday about the issue, and voting eight-to-one in favour of the reduction, chairman Cameron Clyne said no vote had been taken over which team would go.
Instead, the governing body will ‘consult’ with the two under threat teams before making a final call.
“This is a big decision, we want to make sure of the information that we’re making a decision on, and we owe it to those franchises to test our assumptions,” Clyne told the Australian Rugby Union's official website.
“That’s why we think the decision will be quick but we want to give them the opportunity to say this is the financial data we’re seeing, is it valid?”
The Force has been in the heat of speculation since SANZAAR first announced a competition review last year and though the Perth community has shown a groundswell of support in recent months, even up to the SANZAAR announcement on Sunday night, that might count for little.
“This is where we have to detach and look at it in a very commercial sense,” added Clyne.
“Under pressure, under threat, you can generate activity. It’s a question around is that sustainable in that market long-term?
"It’s difficult. We anticipate we’ll probably have to provide financial assistance going forward.”
ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said while passion was hard to ignore, that ultimately had to lead to money.
“Yes it will (count) but understand fan passion should convert to revenue," he explained.
“Actually everything we do, whether growing participation, engaging with fans, delivering high performance outcomes, ultimately it should all be financially measurable.
“That’s why your overarching guideline here will be financial sustainability of the game with the related high performance impact.”
The Rebels have a safety blanket of private ownership on their side, despite dismal results this season so far, with Pulver and Clyne’s comments potentially an indication of the way the axe will fall.
Clyne and Pulver pointed to a downhill trend in the past decade since Australian rugby had begun to expand, with financial and rugby results spiraling.
Pulver admitted that agreeing to an 18-team competition, that has been scrapped after just 18 months, was a ‘mistake’, with the warnings there about the future of Australian teams, but it was one that South African politics forced.
“I think in retrospect, that was probably a mistake but at the time, we had a partner in SA rugby who had a very complex political environment where the government was essentially saying unless you field the additional team of the Kings you’re out,” he said.
“We had Argentina who had been a really constructive addition to the Rugby Championship but were saying they needed to keep their players in Argentina through a Super Rugby team and we saw the economic merit, the growth and expansion merit of having a Japanese team,” he said.
“Sitting here today, I acknowledge that that was a mistake.
“That competition has not delivered the outcomes we wanted. I’m not however convinced it is the 18-team competition that has led us to losing a team today.
“There are underlying financial trends that are problematic for sport that I think would’ve got us to the same position anyway where Australia from a financial perspective and high performance perspective can only afford four teams.”
Though the ARU has touted significant savings to come from the move, Clyne admitted financial assistance would still funnel from ARU to Super Rugby clubs in the new format.
Pulver said all contracted players would have a home in Super Rugby, but wouldn’t be forced to go anywhere specific, but the future of non-contracted players would depend on interest from other teams.