The Super Rugby Saga: Passing The Pub Test

Tuesday was described by The Australian newspaper’s rugby writer Wayne Smith as one of the most tumultuous days in Australian rugby history, when the battle lines were effectively drawn in the Australian Super Rugby saga.
But amid all the noise, what has changed? And are we any closer to a resolution?
Here’s your columnist’s take on the latest developments.
1.      Whether it be at an “unofficial” stakeholders meeting or at an officially-convened ARU extraordinary general meeting, the heat is now on ARU Chairman Cameron Clyne and CEO Bill Pulver to provide a status report on their plan to cull an Australian Super Rugby team. The first question posed might be why a process that was meant to take a maximum of 72 hours is now into its second month. The litigation launched by the Force and the legal threats made by the Rebels will form the essence of the ARU’s answer, but things are probably too far out of control for that response to pass the pub test.
2.      In framing their answers, Messrs Clyne and Pulver will have little choice but to confirm rugby’s worst kept secret – that they are negotiating with private Rebels owner Andrew Cox to buy back his Super Rugby licence. The Victorian Government this week demanded a public statement from Cox that he was not negotiating to sell the Rebels licence back to the ARU. It speaks volumes that no such response was provded.
3.      In preparation for that  meeting, be it unofficial or official, the ARU will be working out how to explain, in words of one syllable, how writing out a multi-million-dollar cheque to Cox to buy back the Rebels franchise makes more financial sense than putting that same amount of money into grass roots rugby. As your columnist has noted earlier, the ARU will endeavour to show that the savings which will flow from reducing Australia’s Super Rugby representation from five teams to four will, over the remaining three seasons of the current 2020 Super Rugby broadcasting deal, exceed the one-off cost of buying back the Rebels franchise. That might be the case, but it will be a hard sell given the ARU appears to have exhausted its goodwill with just about every section of the rugby community. And it will probably also trigger some forensic analysis of the ARU’s finances.
4.      The tumultuous events of this week represent another momentum shift in the Australian Rugby Saga. First the Force looked set for the chop. Then the Rebels. What we have now witnessed is a wel-orchestrated campaign for the third option – to prevent any Australian teams being cut from Super Rugby at all. It started with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika rolling out that loaded suggestion on Fox Sports, with Rebels assistant coach Morgan Turinui and skipper Nick Stirzaker then reinforcing the rhetoric. Then RUPA and the Victorian Government came around the flank to throw their grenades. The campaign for five is alive…
5.      So where does that leave the Force? If Ladbrokes were running a book on it, I reckon the Force would still be on the third line of betting behind the Rebels and the five-team status quo options. Your columnist has already made his call that the Force will avoid the axe. Nothing that has transpired this week has changed that.
As always, stay tuned….