Short straw for Western Force and Pulver to step down following Super Rugby decision
Perth-based Western Force have been cut - and Melbourne Rebels saved - from southern hemisphere's Super Rugby, the Australian Rugby Union announced today.
The ARU has been deliberating since April which team to cut from next season as Super Rugby contracts from 18 to 15 teams.
However, it has been an acrimonious process as demonstrated by the Force's intention to pursue legal action and ARU chief executive Bill Pulver's announcement that he is to step down as soon as a replacement is found.
ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said in a statement: "Our decision to exit the Western Force has been guided primarily by financial outcomes... We accept that there will be anger and resentment over this decision and we sympathise with those fans."
The Force argued the agreement they signed when they were bailed out by the ARU last year guaranteed them Super Rugby until the end of the current broadcasting deal in 2020. However, the ARU contended that the contraction of the competition for next year effectively meant there was a new broadcast agreement in place for 2018.
Super Rugby governing body Sanzaar agreed earlier this year to cut three teams from the competition against a backdrop of falling revenues and fan interest. South Africa have already culled the Cheetahs and Southern Kings, both of whom will now play in the newly-renamed PRO14, which also involves teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy.
Super Rugby was only expanded to its current size in 2016, with the addition of the Southern Kings, Argentina’s Jaguares and Japan’s Sunwolves.
In a statement Rugby Western Australia said it remained "committed to pursuing every possible means to ensure the Western Force remains a Super Rugby team in Perth.
"RugbyWA is considering all options including bringing urgent proceedings in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, and legal action relating to the circumstances which led it to enter into the Alliance Agreement with the ARU."
Pulver had already revealed that he would not be seeking re-appointment when his present five-year term at the ARU expires next February, but admitted that the commotion surrounding the axing of a Super Rugby team had accelerated his departure.
He said: "I have made the decision to step down as CEO once the board finds someone to replace the position. It's been a tough year for rugby and it's a good time for a renewed leadership, a clean slate, a new generation of rugby.
"Sport is a difficult business and we have had a difficult year and this means it is the right time for me to step down and create renewal."