Where to now? The big questions following the ARU’s decision to cut the Force

Daniel Jeffrey Editor

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    After the ARU finally made the decision to remove the Western Force’s Super Rugby license, there’s plenty of confusion about the next steps in the process. Here are all the big questions – and some of the answers – facing Australian rugby right now.

    What next?
    A messy legal battle seems imminent. Rugby WA CEO Mark Sinderberry said they would be seeking an injunction, his statements coming after a defiant press release from Rugby WA following the ARU’s decision.

    “RugbyWA remains committed to pursuing every possible means to ensure the Western Force remains a Super Rugby team in Perth,” the 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.”

    Such an eventuality has seemed likely ever since Forrest pledged his support to the franchise, and with the mining magnate’s billions behind them, it would seem the Force are intent on taking the matter as far as possible.

    This isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

    So is Forrest sticking around for the fight?
    In a word, yes.

    If Rugby WA’s statement was defiant, then Twiggy’s was even moreso.

    “This is like dumping the fastest improving athlete or the silver medalist from the Olympic swimming squad and leaving the worst performer in there,” Forrest said in a press release.

    “It is a ludicrous and unfair legal initiative by the ARU. This would only get through litigation and never logic.”

    He then followed it up by stating he – and the Force and Rugby WA – are up for the fight.

    “We want leadership from the Australian Rugby Union, not cowardly litigation,” Forrest said.

    “But if they want to continue to fight us, we will happily take them on for as long as it takes.”

    Forrest will be at the forefront of the previously-mentioned injunction, and said he’s working on a plan B should that fail.

    (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    What happens to the ARU?
    Well, don’t expect to see Bill Pulver leading the organisation for too much longer. The ARU’s CEO has announced he will stand down as soon as they’ve found a replacement for him.

    “I have made the decision to step down as CEO once the board finds someone to replace the position,” Pulver said.

    “It’s been a tough year for rugby. It’s a good time for a renewed leadership. A clean slate. A new generation of rugby.”

    The problem is, it’s hard to see who Pulver’s replacement will be. One of the criticisms of the ARU has been that there’s no obvious successor to Pulver waiting in the wings.

    Former chief operating officer Rob Clarke had been touted as a possible candidate, but his resignation in May has scuppered the chances of that.

    Whoever steps into Pulver’s shoes, they will no doubt have an unenviable job ahead of them. Let’s hope they’re up for the task.

    Could the Force join a different competition?
    Given South Africa’s two axed franchises have joined the European Pro 12 – or Pro 14 now – some are asking whether the Force could do the same.

    You’d think it pretty damn unlikely though. Unlike the Cheetahs and Kings, the Force don’t share a timezone with any other significant rugby competition in the world – with the exception of Japan’s Top League – nor are they geographically close to any.

    Even in Super Rugby they were a bit of a geographical outlier, something of a pit-stop between the Australian franchises on the east coast and South Africa.

    So no, don’t expect to see the Force linking up with Europe anytime soon.

    Matt Philip Western Force Rugby Union Super 2017

    (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

    What happens to the Force players?
    In March, the ARU promised to honour all contracts signed by players, even if they were with a franchise that was subsequently cut from Super Rugby. They reiterated that commitment earlier today.

    However, while that guarantees a bit of financial security, it doesn’t answer the question of what happens to those players next.

    ARU chairman previously said they will sit down individually with players to work out the best course of action.

    “If we do end up in a situation where there are less teams than there are, then we’ll sit down and it’ll be a player-by-player basis,” Clyne said in May.

    “We’re saying to players, ‘We’ll give you the certainty of honouring your contract or pursuing early release or whatever you want to achieve’.”

    No doubt the ideal situation is for the majority of players to be shifted to different Australian Super Rugby teams, but that’s something the ARU won’t be able to force on anyone.

    Wallaby winger Dane Haylett-Petty, for example, previously stated he would not be too interested in moving from Perth if the Force were cut, raising the possibility that he could bypass next year’s Super Rugby tournament despite a contract that runs through to 2019.

    The Force had six current Wallabies in their 2017 squad: Adam Coleman, Tetera Faulkner, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Haylett-Petty, Billy Meakes, and Curtis Rona. However, Faulkner has already signed a deal with the Melbourne Rebels for next year.

    The entire squad won’t all be able to squeeze their way into the remaining franchises. Some Force players have already inked contracts with overseas clubs, a trend that we’d expect to see continue.

    Dane Haylett-Petty of the Force

    (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    What does it mean for the Perth Spirit?
    The reigning NRC champions are closely linked to the Force – unsurprisingly, given they share a city – but there was no mention of them whatsoever in the ARU’s press release.

    Given that, and that the ARU said “Western Australia will retain an important place in Australian rugby and the ARU will continue to support youth development programs and the community game in the West,” it’s safe to say the Spirit aren’t going anywhere.

    What happens to people who invested in the ‘Own The Force’ campaign?
    There’s no guarantee they’ll be refunded, however if there are any funds left over after the company set up by the campaign is closed, they will be distributed back to the Own The Force shareholders.

    Could the NRL move into Perth?
    It’s a move plenty of fans have proposed over the last few months. With the Force gone, it certainly would make sense for the NRL to look at breaking into the west coast market.

    However, the NRL currently has its hands full with negotiating a new pay deal, which is undoubtedly a higher priority than attempting to break into an unfamiliar city.

    The opportunity is there, but it would be a big surprise to see the NRL make a bold leap and take it.

    Daniel Jeffrey
    Daniel Jeffrey

    Daniel is Editor of The Roar. You can catch him on Twitter @_d_jeffrey.

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