MELBOURNE ACT Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham has slammed suggestions of a merger between the Canberra-based team and the Melbourne Rebels as Australia awaits the outcome of negotiations on proposed restructuring of the troubled Super Rugby competition.
Governing body SANZAAR, which is made up of the South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentine rugby unions, has flagged changes to the tournament's unwieldy 18-team format after a meeting last week but declined to elaborate before 'final consultations' with stakeholders.
The lack of information has created a frenzy of media speculation in Australia, with reports that at least one of the country's five teams will be cut from the tournament.
A number of merger proposals have been floated by club officials and pundits in recent years as solutions for the cash-strapped domestic game, but speculation of a Rebels-Brumbies tie-up has grown a life of its own this week.
Former Wallabies flyhalf Larkham, who played 127 games for the Brumbies and was a member of their championship-winning sides in 2001 and 2004, gave the idea short shrift.
"I think it's disappointing that people are even suggesting that," Larkham told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
"We support this region and the region supports us.
"The Brumbies will only ever play out of Canberra."
The Brumbies, who have made the playoffs the last four years, are Australia's most successful Super Rugby franchise by some distance and have produced an honour roll of Wallabies greats.
The privately-owned Rebels have not made the playoffs once since joining the competition in 2011, but owner Andrew Cox has said he was confident his team was safe.
The CEO of the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs told local media on Tuesday that one team each from Australian and South Africa would be cut for season 2018 but Larkham dismissed it as speculation.
"The decision hasn't been made at the top level," he said.
"Until something happens we believe we're going to be here next year.
"We've been the most successful Super Rugby franchise in Australia," added Larkham, who will depart the Brumbies at the end of the season to focus on his assistant coaching role with the Wallabies.
"Our books are good, our squad is strong and there's no reason why we can't push ahead for a new coach next year."
The chief executives of Australia's five clubs released a statement earlier on Thursday, calling for an end to media speculation over the competition.
"Given that so many peoples livelihoods could potentially be at stake, the CEOs are respecting the ongoing process that SANZAAR are going through and that speculation of a future format does not help any team," they said.
(Additional reporting by Greg Stutchbury/Editing by Peter Rutherford)