The NSW Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by RugbyWA to keep the Western Force in Super Rugby.
Justice David Hammerschlag dismissed the appeal against an arbitration ruling in favour of the Australian Rugby Union that allowed the governing body to cut the Force from the Super Rugby competition.
Despite the ruling, RugbyWA are likely to continue their fight for the Force to survive with billionaire backer Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest prepared to take the matter as far as the High Court.
RugbyWA released a statement saying the decision would cause “irreparable damage” and that the ARU were guilty of “prioritising the preferences of the SANZAAR’s partners rather than a respect for the domestic game”.
“RugbyWA will evaluate its legal options and consider grounds to seek leave to appeal to the NSW Court of Appeal in the coming days,” the statement read. “RugbyWA also welcomes the proposed Senate inquiry proposed by Senator Linda Reynolds into the conduct of the ARU.
“RugbyWA hope that under new leadership, the ARU starts to openly and honestly address the real issues affecting the performance of Australia’s professional teams.
“As a proud and passionate rugby state, rugby union will continue in Western Australia but the decision to remove the state’s professional franchise and aspirational pathway will do irreparable damage to the code in the west.
“The RugbyWA Board and management and Western Force staff and players are very grateful for the assistance and support of Mr Andrew Forrest AO and look forward to exploring other playing options for the Western Force and rugby union players in Western Australia.”
The judgment reads: “The parties do not have identical interests in the longevity of the Alliance Agreement, although hopefully they both had the interests of furthering the game of rugby union in mind. It is to be remembered that ARU owns the Force. If the alliance comes to an end, it owns the Force unconditionally without any potential obligation to sell it back in the future, and can do with it what it likes, even destroy it.
“As the facts of this case demonstrate, they were supposed to be allies, but they were not friends.”
The ARU announced it would cut a team in April after a meeting with SANZAAR officials in London where the broader decision was made to reduce the Super Rugby competition from 18 teams to 15. In July, the South African Rugby Union excluded the Kings from Port Elizabeth and the Cheetahs from Bloemfontein from Super Rugby with both teams joining an expanded Pro 14 competition in Europe alongside teams from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Italy.
The ARU and RugbyWA entered into an Alliance Agreement in 2016 which guaranteed that the Western Force would remain in Super Rugby until the end of the existing broadcast agreement in 2020.
The ARU successfully argued in arbitration that a new broadcast agreement was entered into when the make-up of the Super Rugby competition was altered in March.
INDO-PACIFIC Rugby Competition
Mining magnate Andrew Forrest has taken his and the Western Force’s battle with the Australian Rugby Union to a new level after the club lost its appeal in the NSW Supreme Court.
Forrest took the opportunity of the loss in Court to announce that RugbyWA and the Western Force would be at the centre of a new Indo-Pacific rugby competition.
Involving six teams initially, Forrest said that the new Force administration and the structure of the competition would be revealed in the coming days.
“This is the beginning of the new Western Force and the new Indo Pacific rugby competition based on a fast moving game, highly spectator and player friendly, in full formal competition, as well as a new seven a side competition,” Forrest said.
“This will include strong encouragement of women’s rugby.
“This new Australasian rugby format will tap deep into the burgeoning interest in rugby that exists amongst countries in the time zone that is aligned with WA.
“We have recruited world class, sport futurists and experienced rugby leaders to design a smart and prosperous new rugby format that will appeal to players, coaches, fans, sponsors and broadcasters.
“Discussions with international commercial partners, member unions, elite players and the WA Government have commenced, and, as soon as we can, we will let the fans know all the exciting details.”
Forrest renewed his calls for the ARU Chairman Cameron Clyne to resign, and accused the Australian Rugby Union of bullying.
“It’s time for the ARU Chairman to join the honourable path of his Chief Executive and resign and allow the sport to renew.
“We thank the Western Australian Government for standing up to, and staring down, such bullying behaviour and for the cross party support we are receiving for a Senate inquiry into the poor due diligence and atrocious decision making of the ARU Chairman.”
Emotional former captain Matt Hodgson broke down during his press conference, shedding tears as he announced his commitment to the new concept.
“Something the ARU haven’t looked into is innovation, and we’re taking a step forward here.”
Hodgson said he would definitely be involved and was bullish about the future of the league Forrest had announced, saying it “could probably outgrow Super Rugby.”
Forrest’s attack on the ARU was relentless, saying that his offer to save the Force was unprecedented.
“The Chairman of the ARU made a very poor financial decision to shrink the game, to not approach people like me. To turn down an offer of $50 million which is without record or precedent in Australian sport.
“To know grow the game, but to shrink it.”
Coach Dave Wessels was adamant that looking to Asia and the Indo-Pacific region was the future of the sport in Australia, saying that they were trying to create the “IPL of rugby.”
The last breakaway league threatened in rugby in Australia was when then player manager David Lord attempted to take rugby professional in 1983, signing 208 of the best players in an effort to start a worldwide league.