Sat, Aug 12, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Western Force axed as ARU chief executive quits

AFP, SYDNEY

Western Force have been dropped from next season’s Super Rugby competition, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) said yesterday, prompting an immediate threat of legal action and heralding a shake-up in the national body as its chief executive Bill Pulver resigned.

The ARU said it had decided to discontinue the Force’s license after weeks of consultation, following its decision to move from five teams to four as the southern hemisphere competition slims down to 15 franchises.

However, the fallout was swift as Pulver announced his resignation, saying the body needed a “clean slate,” and ARU director Geoff Stooke, who is from Western Australia, stepped down in protest at the Force’s demise.

“Sports is a difficult business and we have had a difficult year. This means it is the right time for me to step down and create renewal,” Pulver said.

The Western Force’s parent body, Rugby WA, which has backing from mining billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, said it was likely to take the team’s case to the Supreme Court if it wins the right to appeal.

“Rugby WA remains committed to pursuing every possible means to ensure the Western Force remains a Super Rugby team in Perth,” Rugby WA said in a statement. “Rugby WA is considering all options including bringing urgent proceedings in the Supreme Court of NSW, and legal action relating to the circumstances which led it to enter into the Alliance Agreement with the ARU.”

Western Force and the Melbourne Rebels, traditionally the weakest of the Australian teams, had both been warned they could face the axe.

It follows a decision to reduce Super Rugby to 15 teams next year after its growth to 18, including sides in Japan and Argentina, proved unwieldy and unpopular.

The Rugby Union Players’ Association condemned the axing, which removes Super Rugby from Australia’s far-flung west.

“Today’s is the darkest day in the history of Australian rugby,” union chief executive Ross Xenos said in a statement.

ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said it was a “sad day,” but added that Australian rugby could not sustain five teams financially.

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