SYDNEY, March 28 (Reuters) - The Western Force have issued a strongly worded statement rejecting a media report that they are about to be axed from Super Rugby as the governing body looks to shake up the competition from as early as next year.
SANZAAR, which is made up of the South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentine rugby unions, met in London earlier this month to address widespread criticism of the unwieldy 18-team format.
Fevered speculation about the shape of the agreement followed with media reports in Australia and South Africa indicating that a total of up to three teams from those two countries would be axed for 2018.
Australia’s News Ltd reported late on Monday that the Force would be one of the teams cut but the Perth-based side have released a statement saying that is just further speculation.
“Under no circumstances do we believe... speculation around the future of the Western Force to be true,” the team said.
”Two and a half weeks ago, through a national phone link-up, all clubs were told that the ARU (Australian Rugby Union) through the governing body, SANZAAR, was investigating a number of issues and those issues had to be resolved prior to a decision being made to reduce any of the Australian franchises.
“There has been no further contact from the Australian Rugby Union to any of the Western Force players or staff, so at this time there is no further comment on the matter until substantiated facts are put forward.”
Founded as an expansion team in 2006, the Force have struggled to gain a foothold on and off the pitch in a part of Australia far removed from rugby union’s eastern heartland.
The ARU had to bail the franchise out last year to the tune of A$3 million and last week the team launched a A$10 million ($7.62 million) fundraising drive to save it from possibly being cut..
The Force have managed a winning record in just two of their 12 seasons and have won only one of their four games this year.
They face the Auckland Blues at Eden Park on Saturday.
$1 = 1.3132 Australian dollars Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Ken Ferris