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COMMENT: This is the real reason why the Force were cut in 2017

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29th February, 2024
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This piece is by Melbourne Rebels board member Lyndsey Cattermole* in response to an article that appeared on The Roar last week about the machinations around the culling of the Western Force from Super Rugby in 2017.

Last week I read a story on The Roar by Mark Drummond entitled ‘He screwed our state’: The act that still angers Twiggy Forrest. Like many other comments and articles that love to bring up this piece of Rugby history, it is completely wrong about the Melbourne Rebels’ role in the suspension of the Western Force from the Super Rugby competition in 2017.

Here’s how it actually played out.

Early that year the ARU (now Rugby Australia) called a meeting of its members. All 18 members including the Super Rugby clubs and national unions were there.

Over morning tea, Bill Pulver, the then CEO of the ARU, grabbed all five Australian Super Rugby clubs and told them: ‘we’ve got an issue’. He then put the proposition that the Super Rugby competition should be reduced to four teams. Victoria was represented by two votes, the Melbourne Rebels and Rugby Victoria.

Knowing exactly which team was the target to cut, the only two votes against the proposition came from the Victorian members. Western Australia Rugby Union and the Western Force Super team, voted along with the majority to cull the competition to four teams, presuming it would not be them.

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ARU CEO Bill Pulver attends the Wallabies Indigenous Jersey Launch at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence on July 17, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

ARU CEO Bill Pulver attends the Wallabies Indigenous Jersey Launch at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence on July 17, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Three months later Cameron Clyne, the then chairman of the ARU, called out ‘we will make a decision in the next 48 to 72 hours.’

By way of background, the Force was already owned by the ARU having handed back the licence some time earlier. It was a similar scenario to Rugby Australia’s embrace of the Waratahs.

Melbourne Rebels were at that stage privately owned, with a contract designed deliberately by the ARU to disallow any change of ownership, except to Rugby Victoria, and with not $1 in liabilities when it was handed over. If these conditions were met there was no provision for the ARU to reclaim or collapse the licence. This was no smart constitutional loophole exploited by Andrew Cox to sell team for $1.

If you think about this, if it was the ARU’s intention to kill the Force, they could have closed it overnight, not giving Mr Forrest any chance to plead the case for continuation of the Force in the Super Rugby competition.

But they didn’t, I can only conjecture that the team they had in their sights was always intended to be the Melbourne Rebels.

So, with a current owner who was prepared to let the Rebels go, a small group of founding supporters stepped in to not only fund the liabilities, but make arrangements with Rugby Victoria to purchase the team. I was one of those funders, along with Bob Dalziel and underwritten by people like Peter Gillooly and Paul Docherty (the future chairman).

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Andrew Forrest (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Andrew Forrest (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

At a meeting in Melbourne around August 2017, Pulver begged me to delay our funding to give time to the Force to “get organised”. Unfortunately Mr Forrest was not yet on-board to my knowledge. My exact words to Bill Pulver were: “You put us into this cage, Bill, so don’t expect us not to fight.”

The rest as they say is history. The Rebels had not been the recipients of millions of dollars beyond the other Super teams. Indeed in the very early days it was insisted that we were private and whilst the other four Australian teams were given grants, we were given loans from ARU.

Nobody shifted the Western Force team to the Melbourne Rebels but there is no doubt that the Melbourne Rebels provided opportunity and a home to players and staff from the Western Force, and if they made the Melbourne Rebels a better team, they also got to keep playing in Australia.

For many years I’ve read item after item from Western Australians, a brilliant supporter base, keenly hurting by what happened and blaming the Rebels.

They have accused the Rebels of all sorts of heinous conspiratorial actions aided and abetted by the ARU. Each time, whether it’s a comment on Facebook or an unbelievably inaccurate article such as this, to which I am responding, I’ve let it go. No more.

Kicking us again while we’re down is neither courteous nor accurate. Hopefully people will once and for all stop blaming the Rebels.

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The Melbourne Rebels had nothing whatsoever to do with the temporary demise of the Western Force except by surviving, and indeed we were thrilled to bits that Mr Forrest stepped in and eventually brought the competition back to a sensible base of five teams.

Lyndsey Cattermole AM, joined the VRU Board in 2006 and was one of Founding Shareholders of the Melbourne Rebels. She has been a director or advisory board member of Melbourne Rebels through the club’s existence.

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