The Melbourne Rebels are set to launch a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the Australian Rugby Union as the national body tries to forestall the Rebels’ owners by trying to buy back the Super Rugby licence from them.
It is understood that the Rebels board met today to consider the dramatic developments.
SANZAAR’s plan to reduce Australia’s Super Rugby presence from five teams to four suddenly got very real — or unreal — as Andrew Cox and the Imperium Group, which owns the Rebels, prepared to launch a legal raid to recoup the damages caused by the ARU’s bid to axe them from the competition.
The ARU, at the only press conference it has given on the Super Rugby battle a month ago, absolved the Canberra-based Brumbies from the list of clubs being considered for culling but specifically named the Force and the Rebels.
Both clubs have threatened legal action. The Force have taken out an injunction. Both believe they have an airtight case for remaining in the competition.
When will this season’s agony end?
Complicating matters is the involvement of the two state governments. The West Australian government, which has already negotiated to stage a 2109 Bledisloe Cup match at its new stadium in Perth, has indicated to the ARU that if the Victorian government retaliated against any move to cull the Rebels by withdrawing the $5 million it had offered to stage an Australia-New Zealand Test, it would be prepared to host an additional Bledisloe Test in Perth plus a Test against the British and Irish Lions.
But it is now understood that the Victorian government, while it has pledged $14m to rugby projects, has entered the fray by assuring the ARU that if the WA government reacts harshly to any culling of the Force, it would consider compensating the ARU for any losses.
“The Victorian government doesn’t want us to go anywhere,” a Rebels source told The Australian. “We understand they are prepared to provide the same level of support as the WA government is supplying the Force. If we were to get that support, then it would be happy days.”
The Force have been the ARU’s prime candidate for the axe since this whole venture first moved into a war footing with the ARU’s board meeting in February, at which its directors mapped out the ARU strategy. Until last week the Perth club remained the only target but such a vigorous defence have they mounted of their Super Rugby team that the Rebels, by comparison, looked to be an easier mark.
That’s all a bit confusing given that the Rebels never genuinely felt that they were threatened and so felt no need to stage any public demonstrations in support of their team. But there is no question that the uncertainty has more severely affected the Rebels’ performances on the field.
While the Force have actually lifted their displays and beaten the Queensland Reds and the Southern Kings, the Rebels have won only the one match, against the Brumbies and drew with the Sharks.