SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) has agreed to call a “special general meeting” over the axing of a Super Rugby team in the next week after the players’ union backed the Victoria Rugby Union’s request for a summit.
A day after being lambasted along with the ARU by former Wallaby Morgan Turinui over the protracted saga, the Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) board unanimously supported Victoria’s demand, forcing the ARU to act.
“We acknowledge the request by the VRU, supported by RUPA, for a special general meeting,” under-fire ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said on Wednesday. “We will aim to hold this meeting within the next seven days.”
The ARU announced on April 10 that the Melbourne Rebels or Perth-based Western Force would be culled next year as a cost-cutting measure and part of a contraction of Super Rugby from 18 to 15 teams, initially promising a decision within 72 hours.
“The ongoing uncertainty and secrecy of this process continues to do unprecedented damage to the reputation of the game and has placed unacceptable distress on players and their families,” RUPA chief executive Ross Xenos said.
“In every Australian team there are players and staff whose livelihoods and wellbeing have been compromised through this protracted process.”
RUPA, whose board includes Wallabies captain Stephen Moore and flyhalf Bernard Foley, has consistently backed the retention of all five Australian teams.
“If there is no clear way forward... that provides the necessary cost savings... then it’s about time we stopped uppercutting ourselves, backed the retention of five Super Rugby teams and got on with fighting our common enemies outside the tent,” Xenos added.
Rebels assistant coach Turinui also said on Tuesday that the uncertainty had taken a heavy toll on the players and could be damaging to their mental health.
The Force were early favourites to take the fall but after both teams threatened legal action to defend their positions, rumours have swirled in the media that the privately-owned Rebels might be bought out by the ARU and shut down.
“Axing an Australian team and disenfranchising a rugby community was justified five weeks ago by the ARU based on financial savings,” Xenos said.
”Now, anywhere between six to ten million dollars promised to be invested into the game, including at the grassroots level, could be burned so that the ARU can cull a team and save face around the SANZAAR (Super Rugby governing body) table.
“Why are we are cutting a team at all and limiting Australian Rugby’s future if there are such discretionary funds within the game that ARU can afford to buy a license, only to scrunch it up and throw it away?”
Local media also reported that former Wallabies skipper Rocky Elsom was putting together a consortium to try to buy the Rebels and prevent the club from being closed down.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford/John O'Brien