ARU moves to cut Western Force from Super Rugby; CEO to stand down
Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver has fallen on his sword following the announcement the Western Force will be cut from Super Rugby next year.
After months of speculation, the ARU won its arbitration case against Rugby WA and said it would "discontinue the Western Force Super Rugby licence".
However, RugbyWA says it will consider taking the ARU to the Supreme Court of NSW after the game's governing body announced the wheels were in motion to cut the Force from Super Rugby in season 2018.
"We've made the decision here today and if they go down that process we'll deal with that when it comes," said ARU chairman Cameron Clyne.
Clyne said he felt the right decision had been made but apologised to Force fans, acknowledging their distress at the news their club would cease to exist. "It's not a very pleasant situation but we have to confront reality here," Clyne said. "Our teams have declined in performance."
Pulver added: "We did an exhaustive analysis, a massive spreadsheet on all the variables that went into this decision and some of them community-based, some performance-based and at the end of the day, the best decision for Australian rugby was to remove the Western Force. It made the most sense."
Pulver, who began his tenure as ARU chief executive in 2013, said he would quit his post by the end of the year once a replacement had been found.
"Nobody really wanted to lose a team from this competition but it is clearly the best outcome for Australian rugby," Pulver said. "My sense is we now need a period of renewal in Australian rugby, which is why I have told the board that I will step aside as CEO once they have found a replacement.
"My sense is that it's a good time for renewal. I'm coming up towards the end of my five-year term and I think we want a clean slate that the next generation of rugby in this country will be served with a new head. I think it's the right time. I have enormous sympathy for the people in WA. They're great people and I feel very sorry for them."
Billionaire supporter and mining magnate Andrew Forrest has vowed to do everything he can to save the Force.
"This is like dumping the fastest improving athlete or the silver medallist from the Olympic swimming squad and leaving the worst performer in there," Forrest said. "It is a ludicrous and unfair legal initiative by the ARU. This [decision] would only get through litigation and never logic.
"This could be a try against us but it's not the end of the game. It's purely a first try against us, we're not giving up on this. I assured the Force I would do everything in my power that they not only survive but thrive. We want leadership from the Australian Rugby Union, not cowardly litigation. But if they want to continue to fight us, we will happily take them on for as long as it takes."
The Force still have the option of appealing the decision in the Supreme Court but their chances of existing next season remain slim.
"RugbyWA remains committed to pursuing every possible means to ensure the Western Force remains a Super Rugby team in Perth," a statement read. "RugbyWA is considering all options including bringing urgent proceedings in the Supreme Court of NSW and legal action relating to the circumstances which led it to enter into the Alliance Agreement with the ARU.
"Whilst the board of RugbyWA is extremely disappointed with the ARU's stated position, with the support of the Rugby community and numerous WA business identities including Mr Andrew Forrest AO, we will continue the fight to retain the Force in Western Australia."
Clyne insisted the decision to cut the Force would not spell an end to rugby in Western Australia. He also took a swipe at those in rugby for the treatment of Pulver over what has been an extremely testing time for rugby in Australia.
"Rugby tends to – more than other sports – seems to turn on its own and this has happened to the last few CEOs," Clyne said. "He has copped an incredible amount of unfair personal criticism and quite nasty in cases but has never shirked from that."
A number of Force players are in Wallabies camp in Cessnock at the moment and will no doubt want to seek clarity as soon as possible over their future. The ARU will honour all player contracts as 30-odd players at the Force attempt to find new clubs for next season. "Trying to move on is trying to put this behind us," Clyne said.
HISTORY OF THE WESTERN FORCE
* 2006 - 14th (1-2-10)
* 2007 - 7th (6-1-6)
* 2008 - 8th (7-0-6)
* 2009 - 8th (6-1-6)
* 2010 - 13th (4-0-9)
* 2011 - 12th (5-2-9)
* 2012 - 14th (3-0-13)
* 2013 - 13th (4-1-11)
* 2014 - 8th (9-0-7)
* 2015 - 15th (3-0-13)
* 2016 - 16th (2-0-13)
* 2017 - 12th (6-0-9)
* John Mitchell (2006-10)
* Richard Graham (2011-12)
* Phil Blake (interim 2012)
* Michael Foley (2012-16)
* David Wessels (2016)
KEY POINTS IN FORCE TIMELINE
* December, 2004 - RugbyWA beats Rugby Union Victoria for the right to host a fourth Australian franchise
* February, 2006 - Led by Wallabies lock Nathan Sharpe, the Force make their debut in a 25-10 home loss to the Brumbies at a soldout Subiaco Oval
* April, 2006 - Sign Matt Giteau from Brumbies in three-year deal worth a reported $5.4 million, making him the highest-paid player in any code
* February, 2008 - The Force field a star-studded line-up for the opening round of their third season, including Nathan Sharpe, Giteau, Cameron Shepherd, Ryan Cross, Drew Mitchell, David Pocock, Scott Fava, Nick Cummins, Richard Brown and Tai McIsaac. The Force lost 17-10 to the Sharks in Durban
* December, 2008 - Force set up an independent inquiry into complaints from players and staff about head coach John Mitchell
* February, 2009 - Giteau announces he has signed a two-year deal with the Brumbies starting in 2010. Giteau in 2008 was left more than a million dollars out of pocket after the demise of his third-party sponsor Firepower
* March, 2010 - Coach Mitchell announces he will stand down at the end of the season
* July, 2014 - The Force miss out on a maiden finals berth after losing their last-round clash 47-25 against the Brumbies in Canberra
* June, 2016 - ARU takes over ownership of the Force after the franchise hit deep financial difficulties
* June 11, 2016 - Dane Haylett-Petty makes his Wallabies debut, becoming the first 'home grown' player to go through the Force junior system to play for Australia
* April 9, 2017 - Sanzaar announces a restructure of Super Rugby, with three teams to be axed. The Australian Rugby Union later confirms the Force will be the Australian team to be cut from the competition
* July 15 - Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest vows to do everything within his powers to save the Force. He makes an emotional speech to the players after their season-ending win over the NSW Waratahs. The win meant the Force finished second in the Australian conference
* July 19 - Nine Force players named in extended Wallabies squad
* July 31 - The ARU and RugbyWA enter arbitration. The hearing lasts two days. RugbyWA argues the Force cannot be axed because its future was guaranteed until 2020 under the 'alignment' deal it signed last year with the ARU
* August 11 - The ARU wins the arbitration, and immediately states it will axe the Force
- Sydney Morning Herald, AAP