Franchises to find out soon which one is axed from Super Rugby
THE ARU made the decision to cut a team from Super Rugby months ago, and by the end of the week it's expected the sword will fall on the Western Force as the competition contracts from 18 teams to 15 from 2018.
Force and Melbourne Rebels will learn within three days which of them gets the chop as part of part of a broader restructure of an unwieldy and unpopular Super Rugby competition format which is to be slashed from 18 teams to 15 after this season, with two South African sides also to go.
Force captain Matt Hodgson was in tears after his side won a thrilling match 46-41 against the Southern Kings in Perth on Sunday evening, saying rugby would not survive in the west if the club is dissolved.
"Being a parent myself, you don't know where to put your kid now, do I put him in rugby or do I put him to stay in Western Australia playing AFL, so it's frustrating," Hodgson said.
"I think the way it's been done is probably the most annoying thing, it's dragged on."
SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos confirmed the ARU's preferred position heading into February's meeting in London was to cut a franchise and go back to a 15-team model.
"Australia's position is the position we've got ourselves into now, in support of a change into this competition structure," Marinos said.
"They need to determine what team out of their market will be stepping aside, as subject to broadcaster approval."
As the Daily Telegraph reported a fortnight ago, the ARU have already drawn up a 15-team model without the Force.
ARU chief executive Bill Pulver and chairman Cameron Clyne addressed the media on Monday morning about the changes to Super Rugby but did not announce the team being cut.
They say there now needs to be a consultation process to determine whether the Force or Melbourne Rebels will be axed, but it's understood that by the end of the Force's fate will be officially sealed.
Marinos said all broadcasters including Australia's FoxSports would continue to pay the same amount agreed in the current deal despite having less games to screen from next year.
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"It's not going to have any effect on the broadcast deal in the current arrangement, that's one of the reasons why the decision has taken so long, we've obviously had to do quite an extensive consultation with all of our broadcasters across the globe," Marinos said.
"All of them are supportive and behind the position we've taken, which is until the end of this current deal, which is the end of 2020."
If SANZAAR had continued with the current 18-team model beyond this season, Marinos said they would "not have much of a product" to sell to broadcasters beyond this broadcast deal given the masses tuning off.
"I don't think we would have had much of a product to put into the market come 2020, it simply wasn't working," Marinos said.
Under the changes, Japan's Sunwolves will move into the Australian conference, South Africa will lose two teams, while New Zealand remains unchanged.
Force press conferenceForce press conference11:37
That creates three conferences of five teams. The winners of each conference, and the next five best teams regardless of conference, will play in an eight-team finals.
But RUPA slammed the ARU.
"Australia's professional rugby players are incredibly frustrated and deeply disappointed by today's confirmation that the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) has voted to axe an Australian team from Super Rugby in 2018 and beyond," RUPA chief executive Ross Xenos said.
"Having signed Australian rugby up to a competition which reduced local content, diluted tribalism and disrespected fans with its lack of integrity, ARU have now agreed to a new model which has protected the expansion teams in Argentina and Japan at the cost of one of our own."