Rugby Union: Western Force have Super Rugby licence discontinued

Glen Innes product Alex Newsome's Western Force side has been cut from the Super Rugby competition for 2018. Photo: Johan Schmidt
Glen Innes product Alex Newsome's Western Force side has been cut from the Super Rugby competition for 2018. Photo: Johan Schmidt

Glen Innes export Alex Newsome might have played his last game in Western Force colours after the Australian Rugby Union on Friday announced the Western Australian franchise would 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," he said.

"Our teams have declined in performance." 

Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill 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.