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Western Force hits out at reports of Super Rugby demise

Super Rugby franchise Western Force has today (Monday) hit out at multiple reports suggesting it will be the Australian team cut as a result of a reduction in size of the southern hemisphere rugby union tournament.

News Ltd newspapers in Australia today reported that all partners of Sanzaar, the umbrella body for the national unions in Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, have agreed in principle to a more streamlined 15-team competition from 2018 in a move that will see Australia lose one club and South Africa two franchises. The Force was named as the team that would be cut from Australia.

The newspapers added that all parties are working towards the 15-team concept but have left open the prospect of retaining the current 18-team structure if South Africa decides it cannot lose two teams.

The Fairfax Media news agency added that Sanzaar partners agreed to a 15-team model with one fewer Australian team and two fewer South African teams at a meeting in London earlier this month, but that final approval will not arrive until the board of SA Rugby meets to vote on the proposal next week.

Citing sources, Fairfax added that Australian broadcast rights-holder Fox Sports favours a model without the Western Force over losing a team in Canberra or Melbourne. In a statement released today Perth-based Western Force said: “Under no circumstances do we believe today’s speculation around the future of the Road Safety Western Force to be true.

“Two and half weeks ago, through a national phone link-up all clubs were told that the ARU (Australian Rugby Union) through the governing body, Sanzaar, was investigating a number of issues and those issues had to be resolved prior to a decision being made to reduce any of the Australian franchises.

“There has been no further contact from the Australian Rugby Union to any of the Western Force players or staff, so at this time there is no further comment on the matter until substantiated facts are put forward. Until then the organisation will be business as per usual, with the team taking on the Blues in Auckland this Saturday.”

There has been growing disgruntlement in rugby circles at the speculation surrounding Sanzaar’s plans for Super Rugby. Earlier this month, Harold Verster, the chief executive of the South African Cheetahs, told the Netwerk24 news service that his own franchise was set to avoid being cut, but one of the country’s six teams, as well as one of Australia’s five clubs, were going to be axed.

The 18-team format was introduced last year, taking in new teams from Argentina, Japan and South Africa, but has been widely criticised.