Western Force have been dropped from next season's Super Rugby competition, the Australian Rugby Union said on Friday, prompting an immediate threat of legal action and heralding a shake-up in the national body as its CEO resigned.
The ARU agreed to cut one of its five franchises during a meeting of Super Rugby stakeholders in April, when it was made a decision to reduce the competition from 18 clubs to 15 for next season.
Perth-based Western Force and the Melbourne Rebels, traditionally the weakest of the Australian teams, had both been warned they could face the axe after the ARU promised to move from five teams to four.
RUPA said the decision marked the "darkest day" in Aussie rugby and laid the blame at the ARU and SANZAAR over the much-maligned 18 team competition.
"Our decision to exit the Western Force has been guided primarily by financial outcomes", ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said in a statement.
"It's been a tough year for rugby".
The Force went to arbitration with the ARU last week arguing the alliance agreement they signed when they were bailed out by the ARU past year guaranteed them Super Rugby until the end of the current broadcasting deal in 2020.
"They got one thing right today".
The Rugby Union Players' Association condemned the axing of the Force, which removes Super Rugby from Australia's far-flung west.
People within Australian rugby have always been in agreement that five local teams are too much for the Super Rugby Competition - the competition which features teams from NZ, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan.
Billionaire businessman Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest has said he would back the Force in a legal battle, and came out swinging on Friday afternoon. The Rebels, who joined Super Rugby in 2011, have carved out a small foothold in the highly competitive and lucrative Melbourne sporting market.
"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.
"'We have to be very careful that Australian teams are performing so we can retain some ability to have influence over those conference structures in the future", Clyne said. "But if they want to continue to fight us, we will happily take them on for as long as it takes". "We accept that there will be anger and resentment over this decision and we sympathize with those fans".
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