August 20, 2017 / 7:33 AM / a year ago

Thousands protest Western Force cull in Perth

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Several thousand fans gathered at the headquarters of rugby union in Perth on Sunday to protest the axing of Western Force from Super Rugby.

The Perth-based team were cut loose by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) last week, a decision they are hoping to dispute in the New South Wales Supreme Court.

Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest has publicly backed the Force and on Sunday told cheering protesters that the Force would survive with or without the ARU.

“This is absolutely not the end of the Western Force, it is not the end of rugby in Western Australia. Win or lose the appeal, we will get stronger,” he said.

“If (they) want to run a process that is not based on merit, that is based on the lucky draw card of where you happen to live or where you happen to support your sport, then we will start our own international league from here.”

South Africa also cut two teams from Super Rugby as the competition contracts to 15 sides for next year and both the Cheetahs and Kings will be joining Europe’s Pro-league.

Wallabies flanker Matt Hodgson, who retired last month after playing for the Force in all 12 of their Super Rugby campaigns, said grassroots rugby in Western Australia would go back “decades” if the ARU prevailed.

“The fight’s not over,” he said. “Like all good West Australians, we’ll go down fighting, we’ll go down swinging.”

Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Greg Stutchbury

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