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Thread: Twiggy' warms to Australian rugby as Force exile ends By Georgina Robinson July 11, 2

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    Twiggy' warms to Australian rugby as Force exile ends By Georgina Robinson July 11, 2

    Mining magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest says he is open to making a large-scale financial investment in Australia’s Super Rugby replacement, but only if the code makes massive reforms to its state-based administration.

    In an exclusive interview with the Herald ahead of the Western Force’s return from a two-year exile from Australian rugby, Forrest said he would be willing to point Tattarang, the private equity arm of his $14 billion empire, at rugby, if the conditions were right at head office.

    "I don’t have to answer that with words, you have seen me invest in the Western Force and create Global Rapid Rugby from scratch and own it lock, stock and barrel. That’s a very far-sighted investment and I’m used to doing that," he said.

    "We didn’t look like making a dividend for the first eight years with Fortescue Metals Group. This is long term, patient, private equity and that’s the difference between Tattarang and every other private equity outlet working in sport. They all want a return in two or three years, which is a negative for a game. If we want long term results, we need long-term thinking."
    In the space of a few months, a leadership change at Rugby Australia and the COVID-19 shutdown of sport have taken Forrest and Rugby Australia from bitterly estranged bedfellows to cautious partners on the verge of reconciliation.

    The team is playing in Super Rugby AU under the same funding arrangement as the Brumbies, Rebels, Waratahs and Reds and new RA chairman Hamish McLennan has made it clear he sees the Force as a non-negotiable part of Australia's professional landscape next year.

    Backing up the sentiment was McLennan's appointment of Fortescue Metals Group chief executive Elizabeth Gaines to a high-powered advisory board for Australia's upcoming 2027 Rugby World Cup bid. Meanwhile, Tattarang pledged $5 million over the next five years to building "grassroots to elite pathways" in Western Australia.

    McLennan is working hard to prove to Forrest the new RA administration has a new attitude. As many have noted, it would be foolish not to keep one of Australia's richest men in the fold.

    But what does 'Twiggy' want?

    "The administration of Rugby Australia needs to stay on the trajectory that Hamish has it on. In a practical sense, aiming firstly for best practice and then for world's best," Forrest responds.

    "I've been clear to Hamish that we are supporting the trajectory and that we'd like him to be unreasonable in his own expectations of the administration's performance. That's what the game in Australia deserves.

    "We're not going to give an unconditional guarantee but what we will give is that encouragement and we will continue to support the administration while the administration strongly supports the entire game in Australia."

    Every time time you stepped in the water there was a crocodile there, but you still had to cross the creek.
    Andrew Forrest on Global Rapid Rugby
    Forrest is scathing of previous RA administrations and boards, describing as "inept" the game's broader structure of powerful state unions and a national governing body that could not extricate itself from an ailing Super Rugby.

    It's a frustration shared by many supporters, as well as current and past directors. One long-serving and influential director recently told the Herald he considered it his greatest regret that the board could not modernise and align the state-based structure of the code.

    "Rugby should be the premier sport in the world, it caters for all shapes and sizes, for boys and girls, for young and old, and it builds up communities. It just has governing bodies that get in the road," Forrest said.

    "We know that Hamish McLennan knows that the structure of the administration has to change. The dreadful situation we have now is that the administrations between all the states are as competitive as the teams when they run on to the field. When one competes against the other they're making the game poorer. We simply have to have them all pulling in the same direction."

    Whether Australian rugby will embrace Forrest's commercial mindset remains to be seen. But after funding the Force for the past two years and starting Global Rapid Rugby, the 59-year-old cannot be accused of being another billionaire businessman with deep pockets but no experience in sport.

    Indeed, only a person of Forrest's extreme wealth and passion might have survived Rapid Rugby's difficult first two years. The pan-Asian competition was supposed to launch in its full format in 2019 but soft broadcast interest and a challenge finding teams of sufficient strength to participate pushed the launch timeline to 2020. Then COVID-19 hit and, like Super Rugby and every other professional competition in the world, Rapid Rugby was cancelled before it began.

    Forrest maintains it was a net success for a start-up - Force home games averaged crowds of 12,300 in 2018 and just shy of 10,000 last year - and had lessons for the professional game in Australia.

    "It was no less challenging than trying to get Fortescue Metals Group group off the ground, every time time you stepped in the water there was a crocodile there, but you still had to cross the creek," he said.

    "I think you'll see a form of it, whether it evolves into another competition or another competition evolves into it. I strongly recommend to anyone in rugby administration if you play within a time zone so all your fans can watch it without having to get up at 3am in the morning, then you'll do better.
    The beauty of rugby is that it's international but you shouldn’t go so far as to make that a punishment for fans. Invite in other countries who love the game and are in your time zone."

    On Saturday the Force come in from the cold, playing the Waratahs at the Sydney Cricket Ground in a neat echo of the side's final Super Rugby game, a charged 40-11 smash-up of NSW in Perth in 2017.

    Forrest, who managed to fit a visit to Force training in around his $30 million purchase of two Kimberley cattle stations this week, says it will be a moment to savour.

    "It's pretty emotional, they were cut in the most cruel and unfair circumstances, they'd acquitted themselves very well that season and when they were cut I'd already given a guarantee for their financial obligations, so there was really no reason," he said. RA board notes from that period recorded an 11th-hour offer from Forrest of between $10 and $50 million in tied funding to the Australian Rugby Foundation, to be overseen by Forrest-appointed trustees.

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    "Yet still, the leadership at the time wanted to build up Victoria at any cost to the game nationally, so it cut us and took our coach and many players to Victoria and the rest is history. They continued to go broke.

    "[Western Australia] was one of the only states where the fan base was growing and not shrinking when they were cut and in some ways being cut has really strengthened the resolve of that base.

    "I think we're all feeling a sense of excitement that when the boys run out in blue they'll be the underdogs of all five teams. But what they'll be doing, like any great Australian underdog, is fighting. And as they say, it's not the size of the dog in the fight it's the size of the fight in the dog."

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    May the FORCE be with you!

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    Better headline: "Forrest Buys Out Basket Case For a Song. Heads to Roll".

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    Anyone else get the sense from Forrest’s comments that GRR as we know it is probably at an end?

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    Proudly Western Australian; Proudly supporting Western Australian rugby

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alison View Post
    Anyone else get the sense from Forrest’s that GRR as we know it is probably at an end?
    Yes. But GRR is likely just one of many things that will never be the same. One thing that is unlikely to change is the focus on Asian expansion while AF has anything to do with it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alison View Post
    Anyone else get the sense from Forrest’s comments that GRR as we know it is probably at an end?
    What is GRR "as we know it"?
    GRR has been evolving for the past 3 years and we saw a single round of the likely model going forward.

    Currently we have the China/Hong Kong unrest.
    CV19 is having a major disruption in the Asia/Pacific region as most other places and appears not to be going away soon.

    Rugby Australia and the SR franchises continue to be basket cases (and the standard of SRAu is dire. I hope the WF can turn things around tonight against the Tahs).

    Globally rugby is going through structure-changing deliberations with no clear way forward.

    I reckon we will see yet another interim structure in 2021 which may be a glimpse of things to come in the Asia/Pacific region.
    We can expect further evolution beyond 2021 as hopefully CV19 is behind us.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alison View Post
    Anyone else get the sense from Forrest’s comments that GRR as we know it is probably at an end?
    "I think you'll see a form of it, whether it evolves into another competition or another competition evolves into it.

    I see it taking the place of NRC but in a global rather than national way.

    Eg - GRR Fiji & Samoa teams qualify for Pasifika SR and other NZ & Aust SR sides affiliating with GRR squads

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    Quote Originally Posted by andrewg View Post
    What is GRR "as we know it"?
    GRR has been evolving for the past 3 years and we saw a single round of the likely model going forward.

    Currently we have the China/Hong Kong unrest.
    CV19 is having a major disruption in the Asia/Pacific region as most other places and appears not to be going away soon.

    Rugby Australia and the SR franchises continue to be basket cases (and the standard of SRAu is dire. I hope the WF can turn things around tonight against the Tahs).

    Globally rugby is going through structure-changing deliberations with no clear way forward.

    I reckon we will see yet another interim structure in 2021 which may be a glimpse of things to come in the Asia/Pacific region.
    We can expect further evolution beyond 2021 as hopefully CV19 is behind us.
    Exactly, like a good businessman Twiggy is open to all sorts of opportunities, especially within the wild times in which we currently live. One thing we can be assured of is that there will be a Western Force in 2021 and they will play in some sort of comp.

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    If Forrest's perception of Rugby Australia is going from an icy chill of -50 deg C to -45 deg C is that really warming that means anything?

    I suggest the real case is that Forrest is maintaining the dialogue and keeping all options open.

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    The message that I took from the article was more along the lines of allowing RA/Other Aus teams to join GRR rather than The Force joining them. I cant see how the Aus teams can ever be financially viable - too much damage was done (and long before COVID), and RA still seem to have the same mentality. Sounds more like Twiggy is calling them out on their complete stuffups.

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    Quote Originally Posted by andrewg View Post

    I suggest the real case is that Forrest is maintaining the dialogue and keeping all options open.
    Taking the sage advice of Tsun Tzu. Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.

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    Seems Wayne has switched sides of the fence again.

    Western Force, the rugby side that refused to die, are coming for the Waratahs
    Force players Greg Holmes, Jono Lance and Kyle Godwin go hard at training ahead of their return to Super Rugby against the Waratahs on Saturday night. Picture: Getty Images
    Force players Greg Holmes, Jono Lance and Kyle Godwin go hard at training ahead of their return to Super Rugby against the Waratahs on Saturday night. Picture: Getty Images
    WAYNE SMITH
    SENIOR SPORT WRITER

    7:33PM JULY 10, 202012 COMMENTS
    One of the most shameful periods in Australian rugby history will finally be brought to a close on Saturday night at the Sydney Cricket Ground when the Western Force returns to the Super Rugby fold in a match against NSW.

    This is Western Australia’s State of Origin moment, when all the resentment and rage at how the Western Force was treated before, during and after its culling from Super Rugby in 2017 gets to be played out on the football field.

    Super Rugby returns! Watch every game of Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa Live & On-Demand on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly

    READ NEXT

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    It is almost exactly 40 years since Queensland took on NSW in the inaugural Origin match on July 8, 1980. For decades, they had always felt they had been persecuted as NSW used poker machine money to steal their players, put a sky blue jersey on them and then sent them out to defeat the depleted Maroons. As QRL chairman Ron McAuliffe told the Queensland players just before kick-off on Origin I: “If we are beaten, we cannot retreat to any other position. We must win.” And they did, 20-10.

    In reality, however, Queensland’s grievances with NSW in rugby league were nothing in comparison to what Rugby Australia – or as it then was, the Australian Rugby Union – did to the West.

    It began with the ARU convincing RugbyWA to sign over its Super Rugby licence and intellectual property in February 2016 for $800,000. Ostensibly, WA was to be the first state to embrace what was effectively the centralised NZ model. What the people in the West didn’t know – and what later brought tears to the eyes of those officials who had done the deal – was that they were signing the Force’s death warrant.

    READ MORE:Fans will see Red if tribalism tossed away|The rugby players whose stance cost them their lives|Sports quiz: test your knowledge
    Through many a twist and turn, some of which looked likely at times to claim the Melbourne Rebels instead, it was always the fact the Force didn’t own its own licence that doomed it. Of course, no one believed it would come to this and even when the ARU finally announced it would be the Force that was cut, a high-powered group of WA businessmen committed to support the club in its ongoing legal battle.

    Ollie Callan gets tackled during a Western Force training session. Picture: Getty Images
    Ollie Callan gets tackled during a Western Force training session. Picture: Getty Images
    Yet not only did they lose in courts but the then CEO of the ARU, Bill Pulver, pursued them for $2 million in costs and damages. RugbyWA chairman John Edwards, one of those who had poured $250,000 of his own money into the battle, said there was no way they could raise that much money.

    “I said we could do $400,000 and if that’s not enough we are going to take RugbyWA into VA (voluntary administration),” Edwards recalled. “And he just scoffed at it. And so when I put it into VA, Pulver called me and he was freaking out and said: ‘You can’t do that.’ And I said, ‘I told you. I gave you my best and final offer three times.’

    “He said, ‘This is such a bad look.’

    “And I replied: ‘What’s a bad look is the mother eating her young, mate.’”

    The hits just kept coming. To recoup some of its losses, RA then withheld $100,000 in 2018 from WA’s national strategic grant. Edwards and two other directors again reached into their own pockets.

    Then there was the WA Government which, quite rightly, pursued RugbyWA for the money it had poured into nib Stadium to bring it up to Super Rugby standard – only for Super Rugby to disappear from the WA sporting calendar.

    “That was $1.4 million. We are still financing it. We had $400,000 forgiven but we have still got $1 million to pay out and we have started that process. We are busy paying that down in easy instalments. It’s an eight-year payout and we are in year two,’’ Edwards said.

    It didn’t help that WA’s annual support from RA was cut to 35 per cent, although there is nothing vindictive about that. All states have taken a hit as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.

    At every turn, RugbyWA and its mentor, Perth mining billionaire Andrew Forrest have been blocked and thwarted by RA. It even seemed for a while that they would be denied the use of the name “Western Force” in Forrest’s Global Rapid Rugby initiative.

    “Remember also we did the Own the Force campaign and we actually collected $2.5 million and we had pledges for $5.5 million more when we were trying to prove to RA that we were liquid and we could buy back our licence,’’ Edwards said. “Again they (Rugby Australia) did everything they could to stop that from happening because they technically owned the club at the time and we had to give all that money back.”

    Relations between RugbyWA and RA have thawed considerably since Hamish McLennan took over as RA chairman. “He has called me five times more than (former chairman) Cameron Clyne ever did, which is to say he has called me five times,” said Edwards with a smile. “He believes we deserve to be here and it was a tragedy what happened and he has apologised publicly. I’m sure a lot of people didn’t like to hear that.”

    Edwards was there the night the Force thrashed the Waratahs 40-11 in their final Super Rugby match. Forrest asked if he could talk to the players after the match. No one knew what he would say but Edwards was banking on it being supportive and it was.

    He saw that night, July 15, 2017, the power of passion and he expects to see it again tonight at the SCG.

    “I think it will be close and I would put my money on the Force, just because of the emotion. The reason to win is there for the Force and it isn’t with the Waratahs and they just don’t have the line-up that they did.”

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    Legend Contributor Alison's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The InnFORCEr View Post
    "I think you'll see a form of it, whether it evolves into another competition or another competition evolves into it.

    I see it taking the place of NRC but in a global rather than national way.

    Eg - GRR Fiji & Samoa teams qualify for Pasifika SR and other NZ & Aust SR sides affiliating with GRR squads
    Exactly - not GRR as we know it. That’s what I meant in my comment.

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    Proudly Western Australian; Proudly supporting Western Australian rugby

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    “I think it will be close and I would put my money on the Force, just because of the emotion. The reason to win is there for the Force and it isn’t with the Waratahs and they just don’t have the line-up that they did.”

    Hodgo’s memorable sledge about the 3 million dollar play list! Still makes me smile!
    Go the Force!

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    May the FORCE be with you!

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    Quote Originally Posted by SNOB View Post
    “I think it will be close and I would put my money on the Force, just because of the emotion. The reason to win is there for the Force and it isn’t with the Waratahs and they just don’t have the line-up that they did.”

    Hodgo’s memorable sledge about the 3 million dollar play list! Still makes me smile!
    Go the Force!
    That was a cracker from Hodgo, and the look on Hoopers face...priceless!

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    Quote Originally Posted by valzc View Post
    Seems Wayne has switched sides of the fence again.

    Western Force, the rugby side that refused to die, are coming for the Waratahs
    Force players Greg Holmes, Jono Lance and Kyle Godwin go hard at training ahead of their return to Super Rugby against the Waratahs on Saturday night. Picture: Getty Images
    Force players Greg Holmes, Jono Lance and Kyle Godwin go hard at training ahead of their return to Super Rugby against the Waratahs on Saturday night. Picture: Getty Images
    WAYNE SMITH
    SENIOR SPORT WRITER

    7:33PM JULY 10, 202012 COMMENTS
    One of the most shameful periods in Australian rugby history will finally be brought to a close on Saturday night at the Sydney Cricket Ground when the Western Force returns to the Super Rugby fold in a match against NSW.

    This is Western Australia’s State of Origin moment, when all the resentment and rage at how the Western Force was treated before, during and after its culling from Super Rugby in 2017 gets to be played out on the football field.

    Super Rugby returns! Watch every game of Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa Live & On-Demand on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly

    READ NEXT

    CORONAVIRUS
    Arabic language barrier ‘must be broken down’
    KIERAN GAIR
    It is almost exactly 40 years since Queensland took on NSW in the inaugural Origin match on July 8, 1980. For decades, they had always felt they had been persecuted as NSW used poker machine money to steal their players, put a sky blue jersey on them and then sent them out to defeat the depleted Maroons. As QRL chairman Ron McAuliffe told the Queensland players just before kick-off on Origin I: “If we are beaten, we cannot retreat to any other position. We must win.” And they did, 20-10.

    In reality, however, Queensland’s grievances with NSW in rugby league were nothing in comparison to what Rugby Australia – or as it then was, the Australian Rugby Union – did to the West.

    It began with the ARU convincing RugbyWA to sign over its Super Rugby licence and intellectual property in February 2016 for $800,000. Ostensibly, WA was to be the first state to embrace what was effectively the centralised NZ model. What the people in the West didn’t know – and what later brought tears to the eyes of those officials who had done the deal – was that they were signing the Force’s death warrant.

    READ MORE:Fans will see Red if tribalism tossed away|The rugby players whose stance cost them their lives|Sports quiz: test your knowledge
    Through many a twist and turn, some of which looked likely at times to claim the Melbourne Rebels instead, it was always the fact the Force didn’t own its own licence that doomed it. Of course, no one believed it would come to this and even when the ARU finally announced it would be the Force that was cut, a high-powered group of WA businessmen committed to support the club in its ongoing legal battle.

    Ollie Callan gets tackled during a Western Force training session. Picture: Getty Images
    Ollie Callan gets tackled during a Western Force training session. Picture: Getty Images
    Yet not only did they lose in courts but the then CEO of the ARU, Bill Pulver, pursued them for $2 million in costs and damages. RugbyWA chairman John Edwards, one of those who had poured $250,000 of his own money into the battle, said there was no way they could raise that much money.

    “I said we could do $400,000 and if that’s not enough we are going to take RugbyWA into VA (voluntary administration),” Edwards recalled. “And he just scoffed at it. And so when I put it into VA, Pulver called me and he was freaking out and said: ‘You can’t do that.’ And I said, ‘I told you. I gave you my best and final offer three times.’

    “He said, ‘This is such a bad look.’

    “And I replied: ‘What’s a bad look is the mother eating her young, mate.’”

    The hits just kept coming. To recoup some of its losses, RA then withheld $100,000 in 2018 from WA’s national strategic grant. Edwards and two other directors again reached into their own pockets.

    Then there was the WA Government which, quite rightly, pursued RugbyWA for the money it had poured into nib Stadium to bring it up to Super Rugby standard – only for Super Rugby to disappear from the WA sporting calendar.

    “That was $1.4 million. We are still financing it. We had $400,000 forgiven but we have still got $1 million to pay out and we have started that process. We are busy paying that down in easy instalments. It’s an eight-year payout and we are in year two,’’ Edwards said.

    It didn’t help that WA’s annual support from RA was cut to 35 per cent, although there is nothing vindictive about that. All states have taken a hit as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.

    At every turn, RugbyWA and its mentor, Perth mining billionaire Andrew Forrest have been blocked and thwarted by RA. It even seemed for a while that they would be denied the use of the name “Western Force” in Forrest’s Global Rapid Rugby initiative.

    “Remember also we did the Own the Force campaign and we actually collected $2.5 million and we had pledges for $5.5 million more when we were trying to prove to RA that we were liquid and we could buy back our licence,’’ Edwards said. “Again they (Rugby Australia) did everything they could to stop that from happening because they technically owned the club at the time and we had to give all that money back.”

    Relations between RugbyWA and RA have thawed considerably since Hamish McLennan took over as RA chairman. “He has called me five times more than (former chairman) Cameron Clyne ever did, which is to say he has called me five times,” said Edwards with a smile. “He believes we deserve to be here and it was a tragedy what happened and he has apologised publicly. I’m sure a lot of people didn’t like to hear that.”

    Edwards was there the night the Force thrashed the Waratahs 40-11 in their final Super Rugby match. Forrest asked if he could talk to the players after the match. No one knew what he would say but Edwards was banking on it being supportive and it was.

    He saw that night, July 15, 2017, the power of passion and he expects to see it again tonight at the SCG.

    “I think it will be close and I would put my money on the Force, just because of the emotion. The reason to win is there for the Force and it isn’t with the Waratahs and they just don’t have the line-up that they did.”
    Here’s my online reply in the Oz To Wayne smith article— 21 likes!!! Only one slightly negative comment — everyone’s with us!!!!———

    Wayne, well done. Perhaps three yrs late, and you have detailed just 10% of the bastardry - please keep digging. A quick call to the present CEO of RA should assist with provision of remarkable insights, especially propping up the rebels.
    Where did that money all go?
    Add in a bit about a chairman who has never had to take responsibility fir the disaster , and the equivalent of the three wise monkeys on the board whose silence and compliance were remarkable.
    Angry? The word doesn’t do justice to the emotion. We may be back in a short term situation , but all is not forgiven, and we trust no one.
    Now bring on some good rugby.

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