It was we believe the Daily Telegraph that broke the news first that the Western Force were to be the Australian Super Rugby team axed when the competition gets trimmed back to fifteen.
The opening line of their article read “AFTER 12 seasons, the Western Force are set to be axed.”
By mid morning Eastern States time the Australian Rugby Union issued the following statement:
“As announced by SANZAAR following the SANZAAR Board meeting in London earlier this month, the four member nations have undertaken a period of stakeholder consultation to work towards an agreed outcome on the competition format for the 2018 season. This stakeholder consultation, which has included consultation with broadcast partners in each territory, is ongoing. At this point, there has been no determination on the future competition format or the teams involved in the competition.
We also wish to confirm for the public record that no decision has been taken on the removal of one of Australia’s Super Rugby teams.”
Many news outlets continued to discuss the issue assuming that the Daily Telegraph’s story is correct, despite an emphatic denial from the powers that be.
Could there be more at play in the timing of this story? It has already been revealed that the only two teams in Australia who are definitely safe from the axe are the New South Wales Waratahs and the Queensland Reds. Which means that the Melbourne Rebels, the ACT Brumbies and the Western Force’s futures are all on the line.
The Daily Telegraph is an Eastern States newspaper, and so it would make sense that it would want to see the two teams in Canberra and Melbourne survive, as it could affect them commercially, and could see a rugby writer surplus to requirements.
Throw in the timing of the report in the Telegraph, and again eyebrows may well be raised. The report came out just days after the Western Force launched a bid to secure the team’s future, calling upon the community to get behind the team by purchasing shares in the club. In a very odd move the Force opted to have polarising boxer Danny Green as the face to urge people to take out membership rather than someone associated with the club, an ex Wallaby such as a Nathan Sharpe. Not the wisest move, but then again there have been a few of those over the years, hence why the Force finds itself in this position.
The “Own the Force Prospectus” was released on Thursday of last week and the story in the Telegraph ran on Monday.
Forgetting the geographical issue for a moment, one would expect that the Brumbies, of the three teams facing a possible axing would be the most likely to remain being a former winner of the competition. Having won in 2001 and 2004 and been runners up on four occasions.
Yet GIO Stadium is not a venue that the players like. It is cold and it is stark. Last year with around 9000 fans showing up to a stadium that holds 25,011, apart from the club’s success they would in truth be a key candidate to merge or re-locate.
The Rebels is an interesting option as well, and one of the reasons that the story may well have originated to preserve the franchises on the East Coast is that this club is in the hands of private owners, rather than being run by the State Rugby Union. The issue facing the ARU is if they cut the Rebels they could face a legal backlash and a financial pay-out that they simply cannot afford. So the writer may have assumed that with the ARU looking to keep the owners happy and avoid a pay out, and with the Brumbies assured of their future based on history, the Force must go.
What has not been verbalised is the merging of two teams. There has only been talk of the ARU controlling where players will go when they shut down one franchise.
There are many who feel that a Rebels/Brumbies Merger would be the ideal option for the ARU to take. It would strengthen the Rebels side, potentially pull in bigger crowds at a good venue, and they could still play some games in Canberra.
Then there are those who feel the Brumbies franchise may be moved to Perth, as Perth is an ideal stopover for teams in the competition heading to and from New Zealand and South Africa, and with the time difference is well placed for television.
On the subject of television and the current situation facing Australian rugby it is worth going back and looking at the comments made by a man who has frequently made statements that no one wanted to hear, but which have been proven to be on the money, Now England coach and former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones.
On 9th April 2010 South Africa’s News24 reported Eddie Jones as saying to Reuters in Johannesburg about the Rebels inclusion in Super Rugby, “The reason they’re in is because of TV rights. The current 14-team competition is just starting to find its feet and this year is the most competitive it’s been for a while, with eight or nine teams in contention. The addition of another Australian franchise is not good for Australian rugby nor for the competition.”
Jones went on to say, “Another Australian side is just going to weaken the third and fourth teams. If you consider South Africa, they have a great number of players but can still only support four very good Super 14 sides. It’s unrealistic for Australia to have five teams and it will be bad for Wallaby rugby in the short-term, for the next 10 to 15 years.”
Jones described it as a “no-brainer” that players unable to secure a contract with, or released by the Waratahs, Reds or Brumbies would opt to stay on the East coast rather than head to Perth. The same problem that Perth Glory has faced in the A-league with the salary cap.
“So the Force are the side that will really be affected and they’re weak enough as it is. They spent huge amounts of money on players like Matt Giteau and Nathan Sharpe, and now what?” Jones said.
Eddie Jones was absolutely on the money. Australian Rugby is the weaker for the expansion, and culling one team is not going to be a quick fix. What is sad is the fact that now we are seeing the game fighting within itself as each franchise fights for survival.
If only the powers that be in Australia had listened to more people like Eddie Jones.
As for South Africa, one has to feel for them as they are allegedly being asked to cut two teams to allow the Sunwolves from Japan and the Jaguares from Argentina to stay in Super Rugby. Many there are are asking why they have to go down to four teams and New Zealand keep five? If they reject this proposal SANZAAR has a serious headache.
Maybe SANZAAR should look at the Rugby Championship, and decide that only those nations playing in that competition may be a part of Super Rugby? Certainly having Japan play games in Singapore has not helped them as a franchise, as few in Singapore have a taste for international rugby. Maybe the competition needs to stay between Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, with five teams in South Africa and New zealand, four in Australia and one in Argentina.
However that does not solve the problem as to which team is culled…