ARU chairman Cameron Clyne has not ruled out the possibility of five Australian Super Rugby teams remaining in the competition in 2018, though the governing body is still working towards a four-team future.
Seven weeks after he and ARU CEO Bill Pulver declared either the Force or the Rebels would be cut from the 2018 competition in ‘48-72 hours’, the franchises are still without any clarity on their 2018 fate.
The ARU gave notice of a June 20 extraordinary general meeting on Monday, though Clyne said that wouldn’t necessarily bring the matter to a conclusion.
Both clubs have looming legal cases in waiting should the ARU make a final decision, with each declaring the governing body has no right to cut them from the competition.
Clyne said on Monday they, and broadcasters, were still working towards a 15-team competition but his language was far from definitive, as the 2018 season, and the need to plan for that, ticks closer.
“We remain confident that will result in the process coming to a potential change but it's hard to speculate,” he said.
“Every roadblock that could be thrown in front of us, has been thrown.
“When you get into a legal process it all becomes different.
“We're going down that process and hopefully we'll make ourselves as available as possible to try and get it resolved as quickly as possible.”
With the initial timeline just days long, Clyne said the legal battles that ensued from that April 10 announcement, while potentially foreseeable, were a sudden change of heart by the clubs in question.
“Could we have anticipated they would've commenced legal action? Well, perhaps yes,” he said.
“We have talked for many years at the ARU about the challenge of the financial game.
“We've indicated that in the last 10 years we've had to provide financial assistance on no less than 10 occasions.
“In the last four years the Super Rugby tier of the game, we've spent 28 million over and above the budget of what we're spending.”
“So, we've continually highlighted this is not sustainable.
“My suspicion is that they felt that we've talked that but we would never actually go down that path.
“Obviously there was indication before our announcement on the 10th of April that, ‘Yes, look we do make that decision, (we will) go quickly.
“I think when it became a reality, then obviously their view changed.
“They're entitled to change that view but obviously that puts a lot of delay in the process.”
Clyne was quick to point to the franchises and the procedural nature of an EGM as reasons for the delay in the decision.
“You're also operating on the assumption that most of the franchises, in fact all of the franchises are supportive of the direction we're going down, they just don't want to be the team that goes,” he said.
"I think that makes it difficult as well. If everyone's prepared to down tools and say in the interests of rugby, make a call, we'll make a call this afternoon.”
One thing he did rule out was the notion the ARU had plotted to buy back the Rebels licence from owner Andrew Cox, who has repeatedly said he won’t be ‘engaging’ with the ARU.
“We can't allow some things to stand out there,” he said.
“I mean one there's been speculation that we're bandying extraordinary amounts of money around to buy a Super Rugby franchise.
“That's just utter nonsense. If we had that sort of money we wouldn't be in this situation. We're in this to save money.”
Clyne, who was re-elected just a month ago at the ARU annual general meeting, said he wasn’t aware of any serious challenges to the administration at the upcoming EGM.
Rugby Union Players' Association CEO Ross Xenos welcomed the news on Monday that an EGM date had been publicly announced, after seconding the Victorian Rugby Union's vote for the meeting.
"Today’s confirmation the EGM has been locked in, we believe is a positive step in order to bring greater clarity and transparency to the ARU’s decision-making process about the future of Super Rugby," he said.
"Since supporting the VRU’s request for the meeting, we’ve been consistent in seeking a greater understanding from the ARU of the financial picture that is motivating the ARU’s approach to this situation."
Xenos also hinted that there was no hidden agenda for a board spill at the meeting.
"As part of supporting the VRU’s request for the meeting, proposed items of business were provided with the request and none of those proposed items deals with any matters we felt were contentious or were in any way focused on any individuals involved in this process," he said.
"We are only interested in dealing with the matter at hand of what is best for Australian rugby."
South Africa, set to drop two teams from the competition, is also yet to make a call on which teams those would be, but SA Rugby president Mark Alexander has indicated any axed teams would potentially move into Europe’s Pro12.