The ARU would have needed ‘well north of $100 million’ to consider reversing its decision to axe the Western Force, ARU chairman Cameron Clyne told a senate inquiry on Monday night.
Clyne said he, along with directors Brett Robinson and John Eales, had gone to meet with WA billionaire Forrest and former Wallaby and businessman John Welborn, with an ‘open mind’, after discussions with fellow board members.
He denied a claim that he had set a dollar figure ahead of the meeting that would guarantee the ARU would go to SANZAAR and ask for a move to a 16-team model, to keep the Force in the competition.
“We said we’ll go with an open mind,” he said.
“The only number provided ahead of the meeting, was, ‘We actually don’t know but based on the (discussions), it’s going to be well north of $100 million’, because you’re dealing with an inferior competition, higher travel costs and compensation from potentially every other team.
“We went into that meeting saying, ‘if there is a substantial offer, we’ll listen to it’. It clearly wouldn’t have met the costs.”
Clyne also said Forrest’s offer was in the form of a trust to be set up in the Australian Rugby Foundation, something the chairman said would have restricted its ability to help the Western Force and may also have jeopardised the foundation’s status.
The chairman also maintained Victoria’s financial package was far superior to that from WA, with only ‘vague promises’ coming from the west.
Clyne claimed in their forecast, released after RugbyWA lost its Supreme Court appeal, the ARU had modelled a best-case scenario based on continuing sponsorship from the Road Safety Commission and a fully subscribed ‘Own the Force campaign’.
That ‘Own the Force’ campaign had, Clyne said, received $1.7-2 million in subscriptions, well short of the $5-10 million target.
Though Clyne said he couldn’t recall specifics, he admitted that there may have been discussions as early as April 2016 about the possible reduction of a team, but only as part of a broader strategic conversation, looking at multiple forecasts.
“Management are constantly making a series of recommendations, as you’d expect,” he said.
“The board’s always asking them to explore strategic options around how to improve the game.
“Certainly, there was no decision made by the board to go from five to four until April 2017.”
Negotiations over the sale of the Rebels in 2015 again came under the spotlight, Clyne saying he had no knowledge of a unit trust established in the sale or any insolvency issues in the New Zealand arm of Andrew Cox’s business.
Senator Linda Reynolds said Clyne should sack whomever completed the due diligence of that sale at ARU headquarters, given their failure to pick up what she considered critical elements of the deal.
The inquiry's final recommendations will be handed down on November 13, 2017.