The Western Force are set to make one of the most improbable comebacks to top-flight rugby the code has ever seen following the formation of a five-team domestic competition starting next month.
Booted out of Super Rugby three years ago, the Force are rare winners from the coronavirus pandemic, with the Perth-based franchise to join old rivals the NSW Waratahs, Brumbies, Queensland Reds and Melbourne Rebels in the new tournament.
SANZAAR officials are clinging to the hope of salvaging the Super Rugby season, which was this week suspended seven rounds into the 18-round season, and have yet to rule out playing a finals series.
That would potentially feature the winners of Australia’s internal home-and-away competition proposed to start on April 3 and presumably conference winners from any similar New Zealand and South African tournament.
The domestic tournament will see Australia’s five professional rugby outfits playing together for the first time since 2017 after the suspension of mining billionaire Andrew Forrest’s World Global Rugby freed up the Force.
Rugby Australia on Friday night said discussions were continuing at SANZAAR level and with competition broadcasters on the specifics of the draw and finals format.
All matches will be played in closed venues in line with current Australian government restrictions on public gatherings.
According to Nine Media, Forrest has approved a plan to enable the Force to rejoin the fold – provided government restrictions and guidelines on travel and gatherings allow it.
“Rugby Australia, the four Australian Super Rugby teams and RUPA are united behind the continuation of Super Rugby in 2020 and have been intensively working towards a competition solution with our SANZAAR partners over the past six days,” said RA boss Raelene Castle.
“There are still some elements to work through as a group, but we are extremely confident that we will deliver a meaningful product for the remainder of the season for fans and broadcasters.”
Castle said while the focus had been on developing a competition model that would enable RA to meet their commitments to fans and broadcasters, careful attention had also been given to protect the welfare of our players, support staff and match officials under the new proposed model.
“The Chief Medical Officers of each nation have been integral to these discussions, and together with the announcement of the new competition we will be announcing a range of measures and protocols to be introduced for the remainder of the season in the interest of protecting and safeguarding our athletes,” she said.
“In what has been a challenging time for everyone in our sport, we have seen the rugby bodies in Australia come together to put their full weight behind finding a way for our game to continue in 2020.”