Western Force, the Australian Super Rugby franchise based in Perth, Western Australia, has denounced, on Monday, speculative media reports that they will be axed from next season’s competition.
Reports earlier on Monday had suggested that a decision had already been taken to reduce Super Rugby to a 15-team competition – and that the Force would lose out, should South Africa agree to drop two teams and Australia agree to drop one.
Speculation also suggested that any one of the Rebels, Brumbies or the Force, were under threat of expulsion from Super Rugby.
The Force statement, released late on Monday, responded emphatically: “Under no circumstances do we believe today’s speculation around the future of the Western Force to be true.
“Two-and-a-half weeks ago, through a national phone link-up all clubs were told that the ARU (Australian Rugby Union) through the governing body, SANZAAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby), was investigating a number of issues and those issues had to be resolved, prior to a decision being made to reduce any of the Australian franchises.
“There has been no further contact from the ARU to any of the Western Force players or staff, so at this time there is no further comment on the matter until substantiated facts are put forward.”
Bernard Foley, one of the stars of the Waratahs’ maiden Super Rugby title in 2014 and accomplished Wallaby flyhalf, came out on on a social media platform, voicing his support for his compatriots in Perth.
He said: “Hoping reports tonight that an Aus super rugby team has been cut is untrue. Need all 5 teams to develop and grow the game of rugby in Aus.”
Following the SANZAAR meeting in London on the weekend of March 11 and 12, the constituent countries returned home to negotiate changes with various interested parties, notably broadcast media.
Regardless of what broadcasters may think or have decided, a lot rests on the South African contingent of franchises, as it stands to lose the most.
It was suggested that two SA teams may be cut, probably the Kings and possibly even the Cheetahs.
In SA, a whole extra factor comes into play – the political one. Historically the Eastern Cape was one of the largest sources of Black African rugby players, with Nelson Mandela himself being a participant of the game, in his youth.
The Kings, based in Port Elizabeth, with their home the appropriately-named Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, represent a proud continuation of that tradition, giving young previously disadvantaged players the chance to shine at the highest level of international franchise rugby.
Should SA Rugby dig its heels in, the competition may yet remain as an 18-team competition for the foreseeable future, until SANZAAR can get its house in order.