In normal times, our Round 3 match report would be all about how an uninspiring 14-14 premier grade draw with Soaks was all that prevented at clean sweep across the grades at the Foreshore on Saturday after wins in the colts, women’s, fourths, thirds and reserve grade.
But it was hardly a normal weekend for rugby followers in Perth. So instead, your columnist has decided to pen an insightful expose, exclusively for the Neddies faithful, into how the ARU’s so-called exhaustive process to determine which Australian Super Rugby team should be cut is a sham.
On Monday, the ARU revealed it had been conducting in-depth assessments of the Brumbies, Rebels and Force for quite some time in anticipation of SANZAAR’s decision to cull an Australian team, and had decided as a result of that review that the Brumbies were safe. The ARU added that a consultation period would follow with the two remaining endangered species, the Rebels and Force, to determine which team would be cut. This consultation period, the ARU articulated, would take into account a range of factors including “the future attractiveness of that market (i.e. Perth and Melbourne), the sponsors, fan engagement and high performance outcomes.”
In other words, according to the ARU – and contrary to all the media mail – no decision had actually been made to cull the Force at all. And given the criteria laid out by the ARU for its consultation with the two clubs, the Force could argue a pretty strong case for a stay of execution, particularly with the Rebels having no sponsor and reportedly on the verge of announcing a $2 million operating loss. Ouch.
But while chairman Cameron Clyne and CEO Bill Pulver have maintained their poker faces throughout, every shred of evidence suggests the ARU had already lined up the Force for the chop and tried to mitigate the fall-out with a once-over-lightly review.
Consider the following.
In today’s Sydney Morning Herald, rugby writer Georgina Robinson said she understood that senior ARU officials had given assurances to the Rebels that they were never in the firing line. That was even relayed to the Rebels players. That explains why the Rebels’ private owner Andrew Cox hit the roof on Monday when the ARU stated that the Rebels were being considered for the chop alongside the Force. It also explains why News Ltd journalists reported categorically more than a fortnight ago – including in a story syndicated on the front page of The West Australian – that a decision had already been made by the ARU to cut the Force, and not the Rebels, if SANZAAR opted for a 15-team Super competition.
Next, consider the time frame imposed for this so-called ARU consultation period – two to three days. So a maximum 72-hour timeframe imposed (including the time taken to fly to Perth and back) to gather all the facts and figures necessary to make one of the most important decision in Australian rugby history – and one which will shape the future of rugby in WA. Really? Pull the other one son….
But surely if no decision had actually been made to axe the Force, and the ARU’s consultation period was in fact a genuine, faithful and independent exercise, then WA’s representative on the ARU, Geoff Stooke, would vouch for that? Quite the opposite. In today’s Sydney Morning Herald article, Stooke revealed he was not comfortable at all with the ARU process, stating: “I sat on the (ARU) board meeting so I have some insights there and in my view I’m not totally comfortable with the process, no.” Hmmm. As they say down in Gore in the NZ’s deep south, the plot thuckuns.
After meeting with ARU officials in Perth on Monday, the RugbyWA board went much further with its public view, describing the terms of the assessment process being used by the ARU to evaluate the Force and Rebels as “inconsistent and inequitable.” You can’t help but read a bias towards the Rebels between the lines there. And as we know, RugbyWA was so alarmed at the ARU consultation process that it backed up them fighting words with a Supreme Court writ.
So where to from here? The Supreme Court writ will no doubt stall the process and leave things in limbo. Supreme Courts are also a useful forum to flush out the critical who-knew-what-and-when of disputes like these. A couple of questions RugbyWA’s lawyers might want to pose to the ARU are:
1. Which ARU official or officials gave the Rebels owner Andrew Cox assurances that the Rebels would not be cut from Super Rugby before the consultation process had even started?
2. What was it that made Geoff Stooke so uncomfortable at the critical ARU board meeting?
Finally, a Neddies wildcard to throw into the mix. Former Neddies winger turned media mogul Kerry Stokes was a strong public advocate for Perth securing a Super rugby team in the mid-2000s. One can only wonder whether KS might now be tempted to step in and help prevent what Stooke has labelled a disaster which the game in WA will never recover from.