The Man Who Can Solve the Super Rugby Impasse

As regular readers will know, this column has led the pack at every turn on the great Australian Super Rugby Saga.
Consider the following:

It was here you read first that the ARU’s original 72-hour consultation process to cull either the Force or the Rebels was a sham, with the ARU hierarchy having already decided to axe the Force and assured the Rebels they were safe.

It was here you read first that former WA Governor Malcolm McCusker QC had agreed to lead the Force’s legal challenge against the ARU.

It was here we predicted heads would roll at the ARU – well before yesterday’s news that Chief Operating Officer Rob Clarke had become the first casualty.

And it was in this column we made the bold call that the Force would be alive and well next season because SANZAAR would put its Super 15 ambitions in the too-hard basket for 2018.

Seems that the nation’s daily newspaper, The Australian, is now picking up our theme and running with it, with rugby reporter Wayne Smith writing today: “Pulver and ARU chairman Cameron Clyne will be forced to go on bended-knee to SANZAAR and admit that despite their assurances in London in March that they could drop a team, it is proving essentially impossible. At that point, presumably, SANZAAR would have to revert to its current 18-team competition for next season…”

Sound familiar? You bet.

Anyway, here’s where I see things moving forward.

Will the situation be resolved at next week’s SANZAAR meeting in Tokyo?
Probably not. The May 10 meeting is essentially a World Cup meeting where SANZAAR delegates have a chance to catch up. Besides, the South Africans are still running their process to decide which two of their Super Rugby teams will be culled.

When is a decision likely to be made then?
Some time in June. Why? Because the South Africans will have finished their Super Rugby review which, in stark contrast to the ARU, involves putting all their Super Rugby franchises under the microscope. This is why the South African teams aren’t up in arms like the Force. But expect the fireworks to start in the republic (and possibly the threat of legal action) as soon as those two teams are identified.

What happens if no decision is made in June?

As we all know, the ARU has some major dramas to deal with right now. But those dramas would be compounded if SANZAAR’s decision on how many teams will be in Super Rugby next year drags on beyond June. That is because while there is a moratorium on Australian players being poached by other Australian Super Rugby teams until the SANZAAR situation is resolved, there are no such restrictions on foreign clubs plundering Australia’s most talented Super Rugby players. Those players have families to feed and futures to think about. If those players opt for the security of lucrative overseas contracts while the ARU and SANZAAR dither, it would be nothing short of a national travesty.

How can the ARU possibly resolve the situation?

As we reported earlier, the ARU is stuck between a ruck and a hard place because of the legal claims put forward by the Force and the Rebels. Both franchise are essentially claiming the ARU has no legal right to punt them from Super Rugby, even if they want to. And as we also reported, the ARU still has no independent legal advice to counter those claims. So where is the wriggle room here – and who is the key player in resolving the situation? That person is Kiwi businessman Andrew Cox, who, apart from running his Imperium trans-Tasman hospitality empire, is the private owner of the Rebels.

From a financial perspective, the Rebels are not shaping up as one of Cox’s better investments. As we explained this week, the Rebels are losing money, they have no naming rights sponsor and there are no obvious signs of things getting better for the Melbourne team on or off the field. And the pressure on Cox’s hip pocket will only increase as the ARU winds back the financial subsidies under its agreement with the rebels’ private owner.

So what’s the deal?
Cox has signalled he is a seller of the Rebels franchise. While there’s deathly silence on the surface, you’d have to think the ARU are busy in the back room negotiating a deal with Cox. From where I’m sitting, that’s where things are heading.

Watch this space….