Legal action threatened as Australia cuts 1 Super Rugby team

The Perth-based Western Force have begun legal action against the Australian Rugby Union as the governing body prepares to announce whether they or the Melbourne Rebels will be culled from Super Rugby next season.

In a statement on Monday, the Force said it served a writ during "an unsatisfactory meeting with ARU management representatives that highlighted that the terms of the assessment and process being used to evaluate ourselves and the Rebels were inconsistent and inequitable."

The Force said discussions failed to address the responsibilities that exist in the Alliance Agreement between RugbyWA and the ARU "and we felt in order to protect our position it was necessary to issue legal proceedings to protect our rights."

The ARU said at a news conference earlier Monday it expected to decide within 72 hours on the Force or the Rebels to help reduce Super Rugby from 18 to 15 teams. The Force said it was concerned by the 72-hour deadline, "however we have now been advised that we will have further time to present our business case."

In the meantime, RugbyWA will attempt to win an injuction preventing the ARU from evoking the Force's Super Rugby license.

Melbourne Rebels owner Andrew Cox has threatened legal action, seeking compensation for losses the club suffered due to speculation over its future.

In a statement, the Rebels said they are "increasingly frustrated by the impact this process has had on Rebels players, staff, members, fans and partners and the club wishes the management of the issue had been better handled by SANZAAR and the ARU."

Cox separately told reporters "the whole process has been incredibly badly managed by SANZAAR and the ARU and this has clearly impacted the Force, the Rebels and the Brumbies financially."

"I don't think anyone involved with either of those governing bodies could or should be proud of this whole process or the impact it is having on Australian rugby. We will reserve all our rights in this matter and await the final decision of the ARU board."

Perth-based Geoff Stooke, who was the only one of nine directors on the ARU board to vote against the move to cut one Australian team, said he was "uncomfortable" with the process to decide which team would go.

"I'm not suggesting a lack of integrity in it but I'm not comfortable," Stoke said.

ARU chief executive Bill Pulver has portrayed the decision to cut one team as a necessity to ensure the sport's financial future. The ARU is reported to have been spending $28 million a year to support its Super Rugby teams, which it says is unsustainable.

"Sadly it is very clear to me now that we cannot sustain five teams either from a financial perspective or a high-performance perspective," Pulver said. "It's tragic to think of one team being dropped but long-term this is in the best interests of Australian rugby."

Pulver said rugby union faced major challenges in Australia, where it is in constant competition for players and revenue from rugby league, Australian Rules, and soccer.

"These issues are tough," Pulver said. "You've basically got some over-arching strategic issues which are negative for all sports.

"(There are) long-term declines in children participating in team sports, behaviors of younger demographics, millennials in particular, who do not consume sport the way previous generations did.

"Those two variables alone have an impact on revenue and will have forever. Then you've got Australia in the context, arguably, of the most competitive winter sports market in the world and suffering from the challenge of the northern hemisphere having financially greater capability to take our players."

New Zealand, which will retain its five teams, and South Africa, which will lose two of its six teams, have endorsed SANZAAR's decision to cut Super Rugby to 15 teams, a year after enlarging the tournament from 15 to 18 teams.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said while New Zealand teams would escape the axe, it was not the villain of the piece.

"It's not a decision driven by New Zealand at all," he said. "We've got a decline in Australia and South Africa and we needed to make some changes.

"Going back to the three-conference, 15-team setup we think is the best thing."

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