Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is adamant Australia won’t be letting players slip through their fingers to overseas as its Super Rugby teams go from five to four.
Cheika estimates the ARU’s decision to axe a Super Rugby team would leave only a handful of players in limbo heading into 2018, taking into account an average yearly attrition rate of 15 per cent (26 players) across the Australian franchises.
Of the players searching for a new home, Cheika said his priority would be ensuring they remain in Australia if they are any chance of playing Tests.
“I would tell you now that if there was one case where that would happen and I thought that he was a player that would end up playing for Australia, we'd sign him anyway and work it out later,” he said.
On the other hand, players contracted beyond 2017 have already been guaranteed that those deals will be honoured, though they won’t be forced to move if they don’t want to.
Force fullback Dane Haylett-Petty is one player who committed his future to WA earlier this year regardless of their fate and would effectively be master of his own future should the team be axed.
If push came to shove, Haylett-Petty could rule himself out of Super Rugby in 2018 if he wanted to stay in Perth, but there would be no overseas escape unless the ARU, and Cheika, cleared it.
“He can stay in Perth and get paid. If he doesn't want to (play Super Rugby), no (he doesn’t have to),” he said.
“I can't imagine he wouldn't want to play Super Rugby.
“He'd have to have a clearance from us (to play overseas) and we want Dane to be playing here.
“The idea is that we try to make sure that everyone comes out in the best situation they possibly can.”
Cheika dismissed the notion that the biggest names from either the Rebels or the Force would be able to gravitate to the same team, predicting a temporary change to the salary cap in 2018 for ‘transition’ but said it would be unlikely to rise permanently beyond its current $5 million.
“That could happen in a normal year, they (players) might decide if they're out of contract that they would all want to go to Sydney but maybe they don't have the ability to do that because they're caught on the salary cap,” he said.
"The clear direction from this whole thing being about saving money, and I've listened to Cameron and Bill about that money being redirected into grassroots. They're not going to then go ahead and raise the salary cap."
Once the decision is made final, Cheika said his goal would be ensuring players find a home quickly, working with ARU high performance boss Ben Whitaker, in a team where they are both wanted and want to play.
“Once a team is decided, that there'll be a very clear process in getting that sorted out and very short so that everyone's clear about what's going to happen in the future very quickly,” he said.
“That's important to me because that type of doubt, even at a national team level, can have a knock-on effect to performances, from a mental perspective,” he said.
While contracting will be a major issue for Cheika, he said this week’s decision wouldn’t necessarily spell instant on-field success for the Wallabies.
“We've got the same players playing in five teams or four teams. For us, those players should be playing well, regardless,” he said.
“For the Super Rugby teams, the logical equation is yes it will be (better for results) because if you do that math, there's more of the quality players being blended into four teams.
“So, that could have a knock on effect but it's not significant enough to say, ‘Well, that's going to make a huge difference’.”