Nick Taylor | comment, PerthNow
THE Australian Rugby Union has created a catastrophic nightmare for itself in its handling of the Super Rugby debacle.
A week ago the ARU announced that either the Melbourne Rebels or the Western Force would be axed and said it would happen within 72 hours.
But if the ARU powerbrokers thought they were going to easily steamroll over either club, they had obviously not done their homework.
Within 24 hours of the announcement the Force issued a writ in the Supreme Court notifying the governing body of their intention to apply for an injunction against any plan to revoke their Super Rugby licence.
The Force claim the ARU has obligations under the alliance agreement signed last May that commits both parties through the current broadcast deal that ends in 2020. Not to be outdone, on Friday night the privately owned Rebels threatened legal action of their own, claiming the ARU had no legal grounds to axe them.
They warned they would seek compensation if ousted.
With both sides prepared to exhaust legal options in the fight for survival, the ARU now finds itself in an ugly situation.
There have already been claims that the ARU board cannot vote to cut a side under its constitution and there have been calls to sack the board.
Rebels owner Andrew Cox yesterday told his players he would not sell his licence back to the ARU. But ultimately, he is a businessman and if the price is right anything is possible.
If the Force win their legal battle, then the Brumbies are firmly back in their sights.
The Brumbies have no alliance agreement with the ARU and are not privately owned, indicating there would be no impediment to stop it closing the Canberra-based side.
However, there is speculation that Cox might consider a merger with the Brumbies which could make financial sense for both teams.
Cox is set to lose $2 million of his own money keeping the Rebels afloat this season while the Brumbies are not exactly flush with money.
They have lost more than $3 million in the past three years, have used almost all their cash reserves and cannot afford further losses.
Cox, who has put a $4.75 million price tag on his licence, met national body chief executive Bill Pulver this week but both refused to reveal what was discussed.
The ARU steadfastly refuses to reveal why it is not prepared to lose the ACT-based club. The criteria for the chop is based on finance, high performance, sponsorship and governance – all areas in which the Force say they have better records than either the Rebels or Brumbies.
Canberra, with a population of less than 400,000, does not have the population to expand in terms of audience ratings and there is no real potential for player growth.
Rugby is flourishing in WA.
As many as 13 players in Force match-day squads have come through the Force pathway while officials say it is the only State with a Super side that is growing playing numbers at grassroots level.
It is understood Brumbies' major sponsors have not re-signed beyond this season while the Rebels do not have a naming rights sponsor.
The Force, on the other hand, have a four-year $6 million deal with the Road Safety Commission.