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Thread: Melbourne Rebels threaten legal action against ARU

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    (formerly known as Coach) Your Humble Servant Darren's Avatar
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    Melbourne Rebels threaten legal action against ARU

    MELBOURNE has warned the Australian Rugby Union it is considering taking legal action against it if it does not lift its ban on the Rebels signing Australian-based players before June 1.

    The ARU announced the ban on January 6, the day after awarding the Rebels the Super 15 expansion licence, putting the Melbourne consortium at a massive competitive disadvantage to Australia's four other Super rugby franchises, all of which are permitted to re-contract their players.

    Rebels officials yesterday refused to comment on rumours they were contemplating legal action against the ARU and the other four franchises - the Waratahs, Reds, Brumbies and Western Force - for restraint of trade if the June 1 deadline is not lifted.

    In the seven weeks since the Rebels were awarded the licence, the new club has not signed a single player but that is hardly surprising given the constraints put on it.

    The ARU's seemingly generous allocation to Melbourne of 10 squad places for overseas players is being seen in the southern capital as an invitation for the Rebels to go broke.

    Where a 10-Test Wallabies player might receive an ARU top-up of around $250,000 on top of his Super 14 payment to bring his total salary to $400,000, a comparable England player would cost the Rebels the full $400,000 because the ARU does not top up the contracts of non-Australians.

    Hence, the Rebels could blow the equivalent of the entire salary allocation the ARU provides to each of the existing four Super 14 franchises to run their 30-man squads for just 10 players. That, more than anything, is why Rebels' head coach Rod Macqueen has announced he will be targeting Australian players.

    But the ARU reportedly is making it difficult for the Rebels to recruit overseas-based Australians by refusing to say how much top-up, if any, it will provide for them, while closing the door on domestic recruitment by imposing the June 1 ban to ensure there is no repeat of 2005 when the newly-formed Force lured a dozen players away from the Reds.

    While the ban protects the four existing teams from comparable Melbourne raids, it threatens to reduce the Rebels to lame duck status entering the expanded Super 15 competition next year, having to staff their playing roster with the cast-offs and lesser lights of the other franchises.

    The Rebels are permitted to do no more than negotiate with current Australian Super 14 players. The best they can hope for is to secure a verbal agreement from them, but because they are not permitted to announce any signings, the Pied Piper effect the Force enjoyed when the early well-publicised capture of Test stars Brendan Cannon and Nathan Sharpe enticed other quality players to Perth, will not work for them.

    One by one the key Wallabies stars targeted by the Rebels are being picked off. The Waratahs have announced they expect to sign the world's best loosehead prop, Benn Robinson, within days, while they are hoping to secure five-eighth Berrick Barnes' signature when he returns from NSW's two-match tour of South Africa.

    And in the course of the Rebels' attempts to negotiate with Barnes and Western Force Test flanker David Pocock, Western Force officials have discovered they are merely following in the footsteps of the Brumbies, who have made a strong play for both players.

    The Reds, who incredibly are again the province most exposed, with two dozen players set to come off contract at the end of this season, are also working desperately to retain their leading players, although the Rebels continue to hold out hope they can lure Test winger Peter Hynes to Melbourne for season 2011. The Rebels are also expected to make a significant offer for Barnes.

    "I'll make a decision on all that sort of stuff when I get back from South Africa," Barnes said yesterday. "A couple of weeks back at home and sort it all out.

    "I haven't spoken to any of them (Rebels officials) personally. There's obviously a lot of talk flying around. I'll steer clear of all that sort of stuff.

    "All I'm saying is that I'm happy with where I'm at. The way things are going I'm pretty happy here."

    Barnes said he would have been happy with his decision to move to Sydney irrespective of the result of Saturday night's NSW-Queensland match in Brisbane, where the Waratahs came from behind to win 30-28 following a converted try by Wallabies number eight Wycliff Palu on full-time.

    Barnes, who left the field in the 61st minute with an ankle injury with the Reds leading 21-15, pumped his fist in the air on the sideline. "A lot of relief for the last few weeks to be honest," Barnes said. "I'm just glad it's over now personally."

    Barnes received a hot reception from the Queensland crowd, who booed him every time he touched the ball. "I got jeered pretty heavily out there, mate," Barnes said.

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