Exclusive: Seven Network Boss Kerry Stokes Weighs Into the Super Rugby Saga

Exclusive: Seven Network Boss Kerry Stokes Weighs Into the Super Rugby Saga

Momentum swings are powerful forces in rugby. And the ARU is stranded on the wrong side of another powerful momentum shift in the Super Rugby saga.
The backlash against the ARU since Friday’s move to axe the Force has been as swift and brutal as the decision itself.
The chorus of condemnation against the eight ARU directors is growing louder, with credible and passionate Australian rugby identities like Alan Jones, Brendan Cannon, Jeremy Paul, John Welborn and Nathan Sharpe joining mining magnate Andrew Forrest in publically venting their disbelief and anger.
Rugby writer Wayne Smith summed up the mood in his open letter to ARU chiefs Bill Pulver and Cameron Clyne published in The Australian newspaper today. Of course, The Australian is owned by another influential billionaire in Rupert Murdoch, who is not shy of sending the odd blunt message to Australian politicians or corporate leaders.
And your correspondent can reveal the ARU has also lost favour with another influential media baron in Seven Network boss Kerry Stokes.
“The ARU is just keeping faith with the GST distribution model and applying it to sport,” Mr Stokes told your correspondent. “The (ARU) chairman is a Victorian banker – says it all really.”
Footnote: Like Twiggy, Kerry Stokes is a former rugby player, having shown reasonable pace on the wing for Neddies back in the day.
All of which begs the question: Where are all the passionate Australian rugby identities, media barons, billionaires and talkback radio hosts standing behind the ARU’s decision to axe the Force?
And if the ARU expected Friday’s bombshell would fracture the Force players, they were wrong on that front. The players, including Wallabies Adam Coleman and Dane Haylett-Petty, have pledged solidarity until the final siren is sounded.
Spare a thought too for poor old Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who is trying to prepare his players for Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup match against a backdrop of open bloodletting in the Australian rugby community. By the time the Wallabies get to Perth on September 9 to play the Springboks, the ARU backlash will be on display to the rugby world as the Wallaby jumpers in the nib Stadium grandstands are replaced in defiance by the blue of the Western Force.
So what does that all mean?
While RugbyWA’s appeal in the NSW Supreme Court could be heard as early as next week, there are, in the words of The Australian’s Wayne Smith, “things that may be possible now that weren’t possible before.”
And that is for the ARU to revisit its decision to cut an Australian Super Rugby team. That is the only course of action to save the Force because your columnist understands the arbitration hearing confirmed what many had suspected all the way along – that the ARU had no legal avenue available to axe the Rebels. So all the consultation and spread sheets etc comparing the Force and the Rebels were a sham.
The ARU has made the wrong decision. But there is still time to acknowledge that and heal the wounds. Sure, the move to reduce Australia’s Super Rugby representation from five teams to four was endorsed by the various State unions at the ARU extraordinary general meeting held in June. But having now witnessed the fallout from the move to axe the Force, would those State unions vote the same way? What’s more, they all voted back in June without the knowledge that one of Australia’s richest men was about to appear on the scene to throw his financial support behind Super Rugby.
If the eight directors of the ARU are looking for a precedent to make such a bold retreat, they need look no further than across the Tasman, where the game seems to be in reasonable shape these days.
A few years back, the NZ Rugby Union voted  to axe the Tasman Makos on the basis that the merged team from the Nelson-Marlborough region simply wasn’t sustainable. To their eternal credit, the NZRU changed their minds. And since then, the Makos have flourished, going on to play in two ITM Cup grand finals and developing more NZ Super Rugby players than just about any other province over in Barnaby Joyce’s homeland.\
Right now, like any good forward pack, Australian rugby needs the courage of eight. The eight directors of the ARU that is. It’s time for everyone to get back on the same team.