Western Force boss Mark Sinderberry believes the race for Super Rugby survival is still a ’50-50’ proposition.
The ARU announced on Monday that they would undertake a ‘consultation’ process in the coming days to determine whether the Force or the Rebels would get the chop, with an official announcement expected on Thursday.
ARU chief operating officer Rob Clarke and chief financial officer Todd Day are both in Perth to meet with Sinderberry and explain the criteria that will be used to make the ultimate call.
While ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said on Monday there had been ongoing discussions about clubs’ credentials, Sinderberry said this would be their first real involvement in the process.
Finance is expected to be the crucial part of the decision, a development that makes the Force look most vulnerable, with the Rebels seemingly more viable under their private ownership model.
Sinderberry said he didn’t believe their exit from the competition was any kind of fait accompli, speaking to media in Perth on Monday.
“On a mathematics basis, it’s a 50-50 race at the moment,” he said.
“At least, we understand that’s where we are following the decision yesterday.
“This afternoon will be the first time we sit down with the ARU representatives to an understanding of the criteria they’re putting in place and working through a discussion with them.
He also questioned the timeline presented by the ARU, saying the choice will ‘take as long as it takes’.
“In my mind there’s not an immediate timeframe, that’s not realistic at all,” he said.
“For a lot of reasons a quick decision is a better decision but we’ve also got to make sure the right decision is made so that we can all understand and work with.”
Though there has been a passionate groundswell of support for the Force since its future came into question, Sinderberry admitted finance would have to be the deciding factor.
“I think the decision that the Australian Rugby Union has to make in terms of four teams it’s difficult to argue against that,” he said.
“What we’ve got to make sure is that the right decision is made for the right reasons and that’s got to be a combination of financial and what we’re doing in the rugby community and the opportunity that exists within the respective areas for rugby.
“We will always believe very strongly that rugby’s a national game and it’s got to be represented that way.
“That criteria, (if) it covers just finance would be short-sighted.”
The responses of the two franchises under threat has been hugely contrasting, with the Force players and fans vocal about their need to remain in the competition.
Gutted to see SANZAAR/ARU cull a local team. The players are unfairly forced to take the hit for poor comp model & strategic thought— Dean Mumm (@DeanMumm) April 9, 2017
The Rebels released a statement on Monday afternoon, expressing 'frustration' over the long-winded process and criticising the ARU and SANZAAR's handling of the decision.
"It’s business as usual for the Melbourne Rebels despite this morning’s announcement by the ARU," the statement read.
"While disappointed by prolonged decision-making process, the club is solely focused on Saturday night’s Australian derby against the Brumbies at AAMI Park.
"The club is increasingly frustrated by the impact this process has had on Rebels players, staff, members, fans and partners and the club wishes the management of the issue had been better handled by SANZAAR or the ARU.
Force coach Dave Wessels has been vocal in his optimism around the club’s future, speaking in recent weeks, while players have all contributed to the ‘Own the Force’ campaign, that aims to raise money for the franchise to buy its license back off the ARU after being absorbed in 2016.