Force coach Dave Wessels believes Super Rugby will still have 18 teams next year, despite ‘unsettling’ reports over his club’s future this week.
While an official call over Super Rugby’s future is yet to be made, an in-principle agreement to cut the competition to 15 teams is believed to have come in last month’s SANZAAR executive meeting.
The Force was hit with another bombshell on Monday, with reports that the ARU had already decided to cut the Force should a 15-team competition be ratified.
South Africa has a general assembly on April 6 where it is expected to make an official decision on whether it is willing to cut the required two teams for the 15-team format, while Australia’s board may meet as early as Monday.
Wessels has been bullish about his side’s survival and was confident again when asked whether news had affected his view.
“(I'm) extremely confident of the future, for any number of reasons. I have connections back to South Africa and I feel like there's a high chance that things (won’t) change in South Africa,” he told RUGBY.com.au.
Despite his own optimism, Wessels was open about the impact the week had on his team, even though the playing squad has been across the ditch for a fortnight.
“I'd be lying to say the boys haven't heard the news and aren't a little bit anxious about it because obviously many of us have kids and different things and this is how we support our families,” he said.
“The thing that I do think is that this is a pretty special group of people.
“They are unbelievably dedicated and wherever we go from the airline staff to the hotel staff to the bus drivers all comment on it and I feel like we are building something pretty significant here.”
Wessels said axing a team wouldn’t bridge the gulf between Australia and New Zealand that has yielded a 31-3 record in New Zealand’s favour in the past 34 trans-Tasman Super Rugby clashes.
“The biggest frustration for me in the whole argument is if we took our team - let's say we took 15 guys and we divided them against four other teams is that really going to make the difference between us and the Kiwi teams at the moment?,” he said.
“The answer is no.”
Wessels said national pathways and collaboration needed to improve before any decisions to cull teams.
“New Zealand rugby is better than us at the moment because their entire ecosystem is better and I think the old adage of, 'you only fix the leak in the roof when it starts raining,'
“It's been raining in Australian rugby for the last little while and there are certainly people who are now working very hard to fix the hole in the roof.
“We're not seeing the benefit of that just yet but I think some of the systems that particularly (ARU high performance manager) Ben Whitaker is putting in place are going to really pay dividends over the next couple of years and I think there's a really good future for Australian rugby.”
The Force return to Perth on Sunday ahead of a home match with another under-fire team, South Africa's Kings.