ARU to 'discontinue' Western Force as Super Rugby franchise

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The Australian Rugby Union [ARU] has removed Western Force from Super Rugby, but is adamant Western Australia won't be abandoned by the 15-man game.

The ARU made the news public on Friday following a lengthy arbitration period with the Force.

"This has been a complex process to reduce Australia's Super Rugby representation to four teams as agreed by SANZAAR following its review of the competition," ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said via a press release.

"We are regretful that this issue has consumed so much of the public commentary on the game in 2017. It was clearly not our intention for this to play out over such a lengthy period however there have been factors outside the ARU's control that have prevented us from completing the process.

"Our decision to exit the Western Force has been guided primarily by financial outcomes."

This is, however, unlikely to be the end of a bitter battle which runs back to the ARU's initial press conference in April when the governing body revealed it had agreed to cut a team from Super Rugby. Less than an hour after the ARU made public its intention to cut the Force, the franchise fired back declaring they would explore whatever means possible to remain Super Rugby.

"RugbyWA remains committed to pursuing every possible means to ensure the Western Force remains a Super Rugby team in Perth," a Rugby WA media release read.

"RugbyWA is considering all options including bringing urgent proceedings in the Supreme Court of NSW, and legal action relating to the circumstances which led it to enter into the Alliance Agreement with the ARU.

"Whilst the board of RugbyWA is extremely disappointed with the ARU's stated position, with the support of the Rugby community and numerous WA business identities including Mr Andrew Forrest AO we will continue the fight to retain the Force in Western Australia."

The Force have the support of billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest who just last week launched a stinging attack on the ARU.

"I want to be very clear to the ARU. You try to cut the Western Force, you have to go through me first, and then all of our players, and then our supporters, and then all of the parents of young players and, indeed, all proud Western Australians," Forrest said

"This is bigger than just a rugby game. I stand behind all of these amazing people who believe in a fair go and the right for Australians to support rugby union as a national sport, not just one reduced to the eastern seaboard."

The decision to cut the Force means Melbourne Rebels survive, with the franchise licence now back in the hands of the Victorian Rugby Union. The Rebels had previously been owned by businessman Andrew Cox.

The Force had done their best to avoid the axe with its 'Own the Force' investment strategy while the club's small legion of passionate fans had seemingly made far more of an impact with their public show of support.

The ARU has promised not to forget abandon the game in Western Australia, saying the state still held an "important" place in Australian rugby.

"This is a sad day for rugby, especially for Western Force fans," Clyne said. "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. The decision to exit the Western Force from Super Rugby is not a decision to abandon the game in Western Australia.

"Western Australia will retain an important place in Australian rugby and the ARU will continue to support youth development programs and the community game in the West. There will be a clear pathway for young Western Australian Rugby players to reach the highest level and represent the Wallabies.

"Our immediate concern is to support the individuals at the Western Force through these difficult circumstances and we will deploy various ARU management staff to Western Australia to provide assistance to all players and staff."