Western Force back in Super Rugby, but owner Forrest sounds warning note

Australia World

Rugby Australia has confirmed the Western Force will return to Super Rugby as part of an Australian-based competition, which could get underway in five weeks’ time.

The full Super Rugby season was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, after New Zealand’s introduction of 14-day self-isolation for all people entering the country made the existing tournament untenable.

Earlier this month Rugby Australia indicated its plan was for an interim Australian-only competition.

On Wednesday, RA confirmed that plan.

Interim RA chief executive Rob Clarke said the intention was to run the Super Rugby season from July 3 to September 19, with a round-robin format, but said that finalising the details had to wait for discussions with broadcasters.

“We are very pleased that Western Force has come on board for Super Rugby AU and we look forward to releasing the final elements of the competition, including the season draw in due course,” he said.

“We remain in dialogue with [Japan’s] Sunwolves around their potential involvement in the competition.

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“But now we know that we have at least five teams secured, and will continue our discussions with Fox Sports and our commercial partners over the coming days.”

Western Force was cut from the competition — which at that point involved Australian, New Zealand and South African sides — at the end of 2017.

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan welcomed the return of the Western Force, owned by mining magnate Andrew Forrest, calling it a “great story”.

“We are grateful for Andrew Forrest’s support and understand that decisions made by Rugby Australia in 2017 were painful for sports fans in Western Australia and the Force players, and we are sorry that they haven’t been able to share in the rivalry against their fellow Australian teams,” McLennan said.

In a statement, Mr Forrest confirmed his club was in, but indicated that Rugby Australia would need to make changes for the Force to be involved long-term.

“I want what is best for rugby in Perth and in Australia and to ensure the game flourishes,” he said.

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“My views on the mismanagement of the game under the previous Rugby Australia administration are well known and remain steadfast. Change is imperative at the top for rugby to thrive long term.

“I developed and launched Global Rapid Rugby across the Asia-Pacific region to prove how rugby can be played — fun for the players, fast-moving, high-scoring and always entertaining.

“The Australian sporting public deserves to see more of that style of rugby. A game which keeps up with the times and is not mired in a myriad of laws.

“A game which returns rugby to its former national prominence and international appeal. A game that will be embraced by the Asia-Pacific region as relevant, culture-strengthening and entertaining.

“Until I see evidence that reinvention is at the core of any strategic plan RA comes up with, it will be difficult to commit to a long-term investment.”

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