SYDNEY, Australia, Aug 23 – Western Force on Wednesday won the right to appeal their axing from Super Rugby, as the Australian Rugby Union rejected a major cash injection from a mining magnate to keep the club in the competition.
The Perth club’s parent body, Rugby WA, lodged the appeal request with the New South Wales Supreme Court in last week after the ARU announced Force’s removal from the southern hemisphere competition in early August.
Australia had to cut one of its five Super Rugby teams as the sprawling trans-continental competition slims down from 18 sides to 15 next year.
The Sydney court was set to hear the appeal on Wednesday after the hearing request was granted, although it was not clear if a ruling would be made this week.
The decision came after board representatives from the ARU met with billionaire miner Andrew Forrest, a heavyweight backer of Rugby WA, on Tuesday.
It is understood Forrest offered up to Aus$50 million (US$39 million) to support Australian rugby if Western Force was retained in the Super Rugby competition.
The ARU did not give details about the offer, but did not accept it.
“We were genuinely appreciative of Andrew’s generous offer to back the Western Force and Australian Rugby, however, given the position we are in we are unable to work towards retaining five teams in Super Rugby,” ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said in a statement late Tuesday.
“We are at the final stages of this process and Australian Rugby’s constituents have voted to reduce Australia’s Super Rugby representation to four teams and we have made commitments to SANZAAR.”
Forrest said in a statement via his Minderoo Foundation that he was “very surprised that there appeared to be no flexibility whatsoever to find a solution for the future of the sport”.
But he added that the ARU had committed to working with the Western Force and the foundation to “develop a new international competition” that was based in Western Australia state and focused on the Indo-Pacific region.
“This commitment was made regardless of the outcome of the appeal hearings in the Supreme Court,” the statement added.
ARU chief executive Bill Pulver announced his resignation in the immediate fall-out from the contentious decision to cull the Force, while the body’s director Geoff Stooke, from Western Australia, stepped down in protest.
Western Force joined Super Rugby in 2006, but have never made the competition’s finals series.
Their best finish was in 2014, when they only narrowly missed the finals. This season, the Force finished second in the Australian conference behind the ACT Brumbies.