Brumbies safe as Australia opt to axe Western Force or Melbourne Rebels from Super Rugby
Shake up for next season will see tournament cut to 15 teams, with South Africa losing two teams from 2018
The Western Force or Melbourne Rebels will be axed from Super Rugby for next season after the Australian Rugby Union announced on Monday that the two-time former champion ACT Brumbies had been removed from the process.
The decision over which team will be culled would be announced over the next three days, Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chairman Cameron Clyne confirmed.
The New South Wales Waratahs and Queensland Reds represent the heartland states of Australian rugby and their continued participation was never in doubt.
“The board made the decision to eliminate the Brumbies from the process and identified that consultation is required with both the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels to further understand their financial position,” he said.
“We don’t anticipate this final consultation period being a drawn-out process and expect to be able to deliver an outcome in the very near future.”
Governing body Sanzaar on Sunday said three teams, one from Australia and two from South Africa, would be axed from Super Rugby as the mainly southern hemisphere competition reverts to 15 teams for next season.
The cuts come against the backdrop of falling revenues and fan interest in the competition after the expansion to 18 teams in 2016 following the addition of Argentina’s Jaguares and Japan’s Sunwolves as well as the return of the Southern Kings.
Clyne opened the news conference by “clarifying” that it was the ARU not Sanzaar who had decided that one of Australia’s five teams should be cut.
Watch: Western Force v Souther Kings highlights
“Super Rugby has placed an increasingly heavy burden on the ARU business in recent years and the acceleration of revenue declines in our Super Rugby businesses has placed the game under extreme financial pressure,” he said.
“The additional funding provided by the ARU to offset Super Rugby losses has severely limited our capacity to invest further in our grassroots and high performance areas such as player and coach development.”
While the Brumbies, Super Rugby champions in 2001 and 2004, welcomed the decision to remove them from the elimination process, the path ahead for the ARU is far from smooth.
They must either cut the privately-owned Rebels or abandon the 12-year-old project to develop the game in Western Australia by culling the Perth-based Force.
Watch: Brumbies v Reds highlights
The ARU has come under a great deal of criticism already for its role on the contraction of the competition and Australian players’ union boss Ross Xenos unleashed another broadside after Sunday’s announcement.
“Despite receiving A$30 million (HK$174m) of additional annual broadcast revenue from 2016, the financial challenges of Australian Rugby will likely be used to justify today’s short-sighted and ill-conceived decision,” he said.
“This decision will be the catalyst for an irresponsible human cost without any genuine remedies to the real strategic issues that the game faces.”
South African Rugby have begun “internal consultations” over which teams they will cut, although the Port Elizabeth-based Kings and Bloemfontein side the Cheetahs are most vulnerable.