SYDNEY, Australia, Sep 6 – Western Force players were on Wednesday facing a tough decision on whether to abandon the former Super Rugby team or remain and join a breakaway rebel league, as repercussions from the side’s axing continued.
The Perth-based franchise were informed they were being culled from Super Rugby last month and on Tuesday the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney dismissed their appeal, leaving them in limbo.
Mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, a billionaire backer of the club’s parent body RugbyWA, has announced plans for a rival Indo-Pacific competition, with six teams initially involved, including the Force.
“Speaking to the players on a private and confidential basis, I know that some of them have expressed an interest in that competition,” Rugby Union Players’ Association chief executive Ross Xenos told reporters.
“It’s not necessarily a pipe dream. It’s something that some of the players would support. This is a brave new world. There’s a bit of risk-reward in that.”
But it would be a huge risk for Force players to remain instead of joining another Super franchise in the hope that further legal battles might see the club reinstated, or that the new league becomes reality.
It remains unclear whether the Australian Rugby Union would sanction the new competition. If it does not, players would be ineligible to play for the Wallabies.
In July, the Force had nine players named in an extended Australia squad, headlined by Adam Coleman and Dane Haylett-Petty. Many have reportedly already had offers from rival Super teams and overseas clubs.
Local reports said the new league was likely to have teams from Japan, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and Australia, with Forrest also encouraging South African clubs to look at his plans.
The Hong Kong Rugby Union said they would be open to the possibility of getting involved.
“We’d be crazy not to look at it,” HKRU chief rugby operation officer Dai Rees told the South China Morning Post.
Forrest, founder and chairman of Fortescue Metals, plans to kick off the competition with an international game “as soon as possible”.
SANZAAR, the governing body of Super Rugby, decided to reduce the competition after the unwieldy four-conference 18-team model lost favour with fans and led to a slump in television viewers. Two teams from South Africa were also cut.
The fall-out continued Wednesday with Western Australia senator Linda Reynolds vowing to seek an inquiry into the Force’s axing in the national Senate, looking at the ARU decision-making process and transparency surrounding it.
“We’ve heard variously that it was about money, about the number of teams. If they’ve got nothing to hide, they’ve got nothing to fear,” she told broadcaster ABC.
ARU chairman Cameron Clyne has said the court vindicated the decision to cut a team, arguing that maintaining five was not financially viable.