ARU confirms plan to cut Western Force in Super Rugby revamp

FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2014, file photo, Australian Rugby Union Chief Executive Bill Pulver speaks during a press conference in Brisbane, Australia. The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) confirmed Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, it plans to cut the Western Force as part of its commitment to a revamped Super Rugby competition for 2018. The ARU agreed to cut one of its five franchises during a meeting of Super Rugby stakeholders in April, when it was decided to reduce the competition from 18 clubs to 15 for next season. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard, File)

SYDNEY — The Australian Rugby Union confirmed on Friday it plans to cut the Western Force from a revamped Super Rugby competition for 2018.

The ARU agreed to cut one of its five franchises during a meeting of Super Rugby stakeholders in April, when it was decided to reduce the competition from 18 clubs to 15 for next season.

The South African Rugby Union cut two teams and negotiated for them to compete in a European competition next season.

ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said in a statement Friday the ARU "resolved to discontinue the Western Force Super Rugby license...after several weeks of consultation with rugby bodies and stakeholders."

The Melbourne Rebels and Perth-based Force were identified as the teams most likely to be dropped, but the ARU found itself embroiled in a bitter legal battle as both teams threatened litigation if they were marked for removal.

The Force said Friday that legal action could continue.

"RugbyWA remains committed to pursuing every possible means to ensure the Western Force remains a Super Rugby team in Perth," the Force said in a statement. "RugbyWA is considering all options, including bringing urgent proceedings in the Supreme Court of NSW."

Clyne said "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."

The dispute over the fate of the Rebels and Force has become emblematic of a wider dysfunction in Australian rugby whose teams fared poorly in Super Rugby this season. Only one, the Canberra-based ACT Brumbies, qualified for the eight-team playoffs.

The privately-owned Rebels made a strong case for retention and the Western Force assembled formidable support from the West Australian state government and sponsors as it sought to fend off the treat of ejection.

The Force joined Super Rugby in 2006, five years before the Rebels were added to form a 15-team competiton.

"Our decision to exit the Western Force has been guided primarily by financial outcomes," Clyne said. "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."

Clyne said "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 sympathize with those fans. We sincerely hope that they are not lost to the game forever."

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