What's next for Western Force?

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

The Supreme Court dismissed Rugby WA’s appeal against an arbitration decision that allowed the ARU to axe the Force from Super Rugby in 2018.

Mining billionaire Andrew Forrest has already begun to establish a new ‘Indo-Pacific’ league to rival Super Rugby, led by the Force, but maintained he would be looking into legal avenues to keep the team’s fight alive.

So, what does this decision mean and what is the next step?

LEGAL ACTION

Rugby WA is reviewing the judgement handed down on Tuesday, ‘considering grounds for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal’.

Approval to appeal this latest judgement would not necessarily stop the decision from being acted out, with an injunction required for the Force to be able to prevent the ARU from acting.

Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing, the ARU agreed to wait on making any moves to wind up the Force, but it seems unlikely that will happen again.

Forrest said he had engaged a leading QC to review the judgement before Rugby WA made a call on whether to take it forward.

“I have this morning briefed one of Australia's leading silks, expert in the High Court, Mr Allan Myers AC, QC will be reviewing this judgement immediately and we will not keep the Australian public waiting.

“We will announce our decision to seek leave to appeal to the High Court within the next several days.”

PLAYERS

The Western Force players have stayed staunchly loyal in a difficult time personally and for their team, but Tuesday’s decision delivered another critical juncture in deciding their future.

There were emotional scenes throughout the playing group at Force HQ on Tuesday morning, as they and staff came to grips with a decision that likely spells the end of many players’ time in Perth and a team they care about.

Wallabies lock Adam Coleman said on Monday that players had Plan Bs in place, given the situation, and even emotional former skipper Matt Hodgson could not begrudge players for leaving.

“Everyone wants to play for the Western Force, players want to stay here and you see how solid we are, after 140 plus days there has been no leaks in our ship yet,” he said.

“We are fighting hard and we have to look after our futures as well so you wouldn't begrudge anyone but we need to keep as many people here as strong as possible.”

There are some big decisions to come for the Force players. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleySome contracting processes and plans have already been prepared to be put into motion as soon as a decision was made, whether that be early releases, franchise relocation or simply a contracting payout.

Andrew Forrest's new competition could provide another home for them, but it is unclear where that would leave them with the ARU and Test eligibility.

With a CBA yet to be negotiated for 2018 and beyond, what the structure in terms of squad size and salary cap looks like for each team is still unclear, though.

Force coach Dave Wessels said players would need to work things through in each case.

“It's going to be for the players to decide individually with their families what's the best thing for them,” he said.

COACHING FUTURE

Dave Wessels has some choices to make. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyWessels has been a galvanising character in this year’s tumultuous times and is a highly-regarded figure in Perth and by opposition teams.

There has been speculation that the WA coach would make a move to Melbourne, along with some of his high-profile players, to continue Super Rugby coaching.

Wessels maintained his passion for the Force on Tuesday but was non-committal when asked whether he would be at the helm in a new competition.

“I look forward to having that conversation with Andrew again and talking to my wife and my family and making those decisions,” he said.

“The Force is a very special place and to be honest this has given me my start in my career, so I feel very loyal to all the people here that have given me that opportunity and the fans and everyone's just been really fantastic.

“We'll take the next couple of days to work that out as a family but we'll make that decision shortly.”

PATHWAY

Perth fans turned out in numbers on Sunday afternoon. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

While there won’t be a Western Force in Super Rugby next year, the Perth Spirit are likely to remain in the National Rugby Championship.

The Spirit had 4000 people watch on as they opened their title defence against the Melbourne Rising.

Wessels said a title win would send the most emphatic of messages about the support for grassroots rugby in WA

“My personal aspiration for the Spirit is to go and win an NRC,” he said.


“There's no better statement that we can make as a group potentially playing for the last time together, is to actually go out there and win the whole thing.”

“I think if you came to Sunday and you saw people on the hill, in a way Super Rugby's ostracised a huge market share which is very sad for rugby but as we say maybe that's an opportunity.”

Western Force general manager Mark Sinderberry said it was too early to make a call on whether they could reconcile having a top-flight team in an independent competition and a team in an ARU-run provincial tournament.

“They're all unknowns,” he said.

“We're excited by the future prospects, we're excited by the prospects for rugby players in Western Australia, I think that's what's really exciting out of today's announcement.”

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