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Rebels ownership change complicates Super Rugby outlook

The licence to operate the Melbourne Rebels Super Rugby club has been transferred to the Victoria Rugby Union (VRU) in an attempt to protect the franchise from being shut down by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU).

As part of a restructure of the Super Rugby competition, the ARU will cut either the Rebels or the Perth-based Western Force, with an arbitration case between the ARU and WA Rugby, which operates the latter franchise, set to be handed down in the coming days.

Andrew Cox sold his licence for the Rebels for just Aus$1 (€0.67/$0.79).

“It’s exciting for the Melbourne Rebels and local rugby that, with the VRU, we've been able to secure the future of the Super Rugby club,” Cox said. However, the ARU has indicated that it was not informed of the change of ownership and would need to approve the transaction.

The VRU said on Sunday: “Today's announcement sets in place the foundations for a secure and positive future for the Melbourne Rebels and Victorian Rugby.”

WA Rugby chairman Tony Howarth told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that the situation is “embarrassing for the ARU.”

Howarth added: “We remain confident that the arbitration decision will go our way, but if it doesn’t… we’re not going to stop there. We won’t be done in by a group of people sitting in Sydney who think they understand the running of the game when they’ve been so fundamentally bad that people don’t want to go to Test matches any more. They can’t start blaming others for that. There comes a point when they have to take the blame.”

Earlier this year, Sanzaar, which operates the Super Rugby competition, decided to reduce the number of teams from 18 to 15 from next season. The South African Cheetahs and Southern Kings have already departed and will join Europe's Pro12, which features clubs from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.