SYDNEY The Western Force and Melbourne Rebels will have to wait a little longer to discover which will be axed from Super Rugby after the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) on Tuesday abandoned its plans to make the decision before the end of the week.
ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said on Monday an announcement on whether the Force or Rebels would be culled from Super Rugby as the competition contracts to 15 teams for 2018 would be delivered in "48 to 72 hours".
After meeting with ARU officials on Monday, the Perth-based Force said the discussions had been "unsatisfactory" and announced they would be launching legal proceedings against the governing body.
Clyne responded on Tuesday by saying the ARU would "undertake due process" to ensure both clubs had adequate time to "present their business case" before the decision was made.
"We maintain our commitment to reaching resolution on this matter as soon as possible. However, the timeline that we initially anticipated of 48-72 hours will not apply," he said in a statement.
With Friday and Monday public holidays in Australia, the saga, which has overshadowed the seasons of both teams, now looks set to go on at least until the middle of next week.
The Rebels released a statement on Monday condemning the way the ARU and competition organisers SANZAAR had gone about the restructuring, which will also see two South African franchises axed.
The cuts come against the backdrop of falling revenues and fan interest after the expansion to 18 teams in 2016 following the addition of Argentina's Jaguares and Japan's Sunwolves as well as the return of the Kings in South Africa.
The decision was reached at a meeting of SANZAAR, which is made up of the South African, Australian, Argentinian and New Zealand unions, in London last month and, in the absence of an announcement, speculation raged over which teams would go.
The New South Wales Waratahs and Queensland Reds represent the heartland states of Australian rugby union and their continued participation was never in doubt, while Clyne said on Monday the twice champion ACT Brumbies were safe.
The ARU, who conceded that they could no longer afford five teams in the competition, must either cut the team from the country's second biggest city or abandon the 12-year-old project to develop the game in Western Australia.
The ARU also released its accounts on Monday, which showed that bailing out the Force last year had cost A$4.8 million ($3.60 million).
Being privately-owned, the Rebels could potentially be even more costly to axe once compensation for the lost franchise licence was taken into account.
South African Rugby have embarked on "internal consultations" over which teams they will cut, although the Port Elizabeth-based Kings and Bloemfontein side the Cheetahs are most vulnerable.
The governing body said they hoped to confirm the four remaining South African teams to compete in 2018 by the end of June.
($1 = A$1.3335)
(Editing by John O'Brien)