AFTER 12 seasons, the Western Force are set to be axed.
The Daily Telegraph understands that the Force will be the Australian team scrapped should the Super Rugby competition be cut to 15 teams, the model SANZAAR prefers for 2018-19.
And in a revamped competition, the ARU is planning to take control of the Force roster and tell players contracted beyond this season which rival Australian clubs they’ll join next year.
The Force’s future hinges on whether South Africa agrees to cut two of their teams, a decision that will be made by April 6 when they have a key meeting.
All SANZAAR partners have agreed in principal that a more streamlined 15-team competition is needed for next year, and that involves Australia cutting one team and South Africa cutting two.
All parties are working towards the 15-team concept but have left the possibility open of retaining the current 18-team structure if South Africa suddenly decides it cannot lose two teams.
Political issues are involved, with the South African government not keen to see the Southern Kings, a side they fought to have in the competition, removed.
But there seems to be growing belief among the game’s stakeholders that a 15-team model can be made for next year, and that would mean the Perth franchise being removed.
As part of the overhaul, contracted Force players would have any remaining years of their deals honoured by the ARU.
But as part of this, the ARU wants to dictate where those players go next, rather than having a large chunk of Force players opting for the Waratahs or Reds because they’d rather live in Sydney or Brisbane.
The abolition of the Force would be an exercise in strengthening the other teams who were considered for axing; the Melbourne Rebels and Brumbies.
The Telegraph understands that while star Wallaby players like Dane Haylett-Petty and Adam Coleman will be given more flexibility by the ARU in where they want to play, non-Wallaby players will essentially be reassigned clubs by the national body.
The ARU would not comment for this story. They have their hands tied because South Africa has yet to confirm they’ll cut two teams.
If the South Africans don’t cut the required teams, Super Rugby will remain an 18-team tournament next year and the ARU would be left embarrassed by having declared they were willing to lose a team.
However, it’s understood that the ARU’s decision to axe the Force in a revamped competition has been made.
The Rebels are privately owned and the ARU fear a legal backlash by owner Andrew Cox should they attempt to remove them.
The Brumbies are Australia’s most successful franchise and leading the local conference, while they have powerful backers.
NSW and Queensland produce the bulk of Australia’s players and have never been in danger.
The ARU took over running of the Force last year, due to serious financial issues.
The Force launched a new ownership campaign last week, urging fans to pay $1000 each to own 10,000 shares in the newly public Western Force Owners Pty Ltd company. Buyers will be refunded if the franchise folds.
The Force, formed in 2005, entered Super Rugby in 2006 but have never made the finals. They have finished in the bottom three of the competition in six of their 11 seasons.