The Inside Story of Andrew Forrest’s Super Rugby Game-Changer

Well readers, last week we suggested the next development in the Super Rugby saga might come on Sunday.
It arrived a couple of hours early – about 7.30pm on Saturday night  – in the form of Force white knight Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, who declared: “Be assured that surviving is not an issue, you will survive and you will win.”
It was a dramatic intervention in the Australian Super Rugby saga by the iron ore magnate which is rightly viewed as game-changer.
So how did it all come about? And what does it mean?
Like fellow Perth billionaires Kerry Stokes and the late Len Buckeridge, John Andrew Henry Forrest is a rugby man. In his rugby playing days at Hale School, he went pretty hard at the ball. Now one of his favourite pass times is watching son Sydney do the same, playing like his dad on the side of the Hale scrum.
With rugby in the Forrest blood, Twiggy and his family have been passionate Force supporters from day one.
When the ARU announced plans in April to cull either the Force of the Rebels, Twiggy declared to your columnist that he would stand behind the Force. “Take on the Western Force and the battle will get much bigger,” he warned at the time.
It was no hollow threat by one of the nation’s richest men. And the Force’s last game of the 2017 season on Saturday night provided the perfect stage for Twiggy to make a stand by telling the rugby world he would do whatever it took to support the team representing the State which his great-great uncle Sir John Forrest served as the first Premier of in 1890.
Observant Force fans might have sensed a clue of what was about to unfold – the No 7 jumper worn by skipper Matt Hodgson proudly displayed the logo of FMG, the home-grown mining giant Twiggy had created to break the Rio Tinto-BHP iron ore duopoly in the Pilbara.
Twiggy had wanted to personally address the Force players before the game in the hope his pledge to back the team would act as a motivational force against the Waratahs. However, at the suggestion of coach Dave Wessels, it was decided to wait until the game had finished.
The plan was for Twiggy to address the Force players back in the dressing room after the game. But given all the emotion on the pitch at the final whistle, it was obviously going to be a long wait before the players – and in particular their inspirational skipper Hodgo – finally made it back to the showers.
So instead, as soon as the final whistle sounded, Twiggy followed RugbyWA chairman Tony Howarth onto nib Stadium playing field to address the Force players. In tow was big John Welborn, the home-grown Wallaby turned mining executive nominated by Forrest as his Super Rugby talking head.
So does Twiggy’s pledge of support mean he plans to buy the Force back from the ARU and be its private owner? The short answer is no.
Rather, the intent remains for a broad range of West Australian rugby fans to buy shares in the Own the Force venture, the vehicle through which RugbyWA plans to buy back the Force licence from the ARU. Twiggy’ s involvement will, however, provide a huge shot of confidence for the Own the Force campaign.
In the short term, the most likely funding contribution Andrew Forrest will make to the Force will be to support the legal Fighting Fund which RugbyWA quietly started rattling the tin for last week ahead of the looming arbitration hearing with the ARU in a couple of weeks. While Malcolm McCusker QC is said to be working pro-bono in the Force’s corner, there are plenty of other legal bills to pay. About $350,000 has apparently already been spent to date on legal fees, with a further $300,000 required to complete the arbitration case.
Until now, the ARU had the financial might on its side. But with billionaire Andrew Forrest in its corner, the Force is now a formidable litigant.
Longer term, Twiggy is also likely to stand behind RugbyWA as a financial supporter, thus helping overcome any concerns the ARU has about the Force’s financial sustainability.
Understandably, the ARU will be seeking some detail around the level of financial support Twiggy intends to provide RugbyWA and the Force. Expect big John Welborn to do the talking there.
Of course, financial stability is a rare term in Australian rugby circles these days. And it is one key performance indicator which simply can’t be ignored in the Australian Super Rugby saga.
Meanwhile, for those who missed it, Hodgo also managed to send a blunt message to the ARU in the final minutes of his Super Rugby career. In a scuffle around the 77 minute mark, Hodgo reminded his opposite Michael Hooper of the circa $2 million discrepancy in the cost of the respective cattle assembled by the Force and the disinterested Waratahs. Of course, apart from mining iron ore, Twiggy knows a thing or two about cattle as well…
Stayed tuned.