Australia's Western Force axed from Super Rugby


Western Force players react after the Lions forced a turnover during the Super Rugby match between Australias Western Force and South Africas Lions in Perth on April 29, 2017.

SYDNEY - The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) axed the Perth-based Western Force team from Super Rugby on Friday, ending a long-running saga by announcing it had "resolved to discontinue" the team's tournament licence.

The ARU said in April that it would cut either the Force or the Melbourne Rebels from Super Rugby next season as the competition contracts from 18 to 15 teams.

"Our decision to exit the Western Force has been guided primarily by financial outcomes," ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said in a statement.

"This is a sad day for rugby, especially for Western Force fans. We accept that there will be anger and resentment over this decision and we sympathise with those fans. We sincerely hope that they are not lost to the game forever."

Nobody from the Western Force was immediately available for comment.

The Force and ARU went into arbitration last week.

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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.

The ARU contended that the contraction of the competition for next year effectively meant there was a new broadcast agreement in place for 2018.

Governing body Sanzaar earlier this year agreed to cut three teams from the competition against a backdrop of falling revenues and fan interest.

South Africa has already culled the Cheetahs and Kings, which have both announced they will move to play in the European Pro-league.

The ARU quickly ruled out cutting previous Super Rugby champion teams the New South Wales Waratahs, ACT Brumbies and Queensland Reds, leaving a choice between the Force and Melbourne Rebels.

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Rebels owner Andrew Cox confirmed last weekend that he had transferred ownership to state governing body Victorian Rugby Union (VRU), declaring the move had "secured" the team's future.

The fight from Western Australia might not yet be over, however.

Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest warned the ARU earlier this week that he would be first in line to fight the embattled governing body if it cut Western Force.

With Forrest throwing his weight behind the team, the battle over the future of the Force could still be dragged out in a long legal battle the cash-strapped ARU can ill afford.

Next season's Super Rugby tournament will see the 15 participating teams divided into three geographical groups with the Australian Conference comprising the four remaining sides from the country along with the Japan-based Sunwolves.