ARU rubbishes Forrest's 'ambush' claims

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The ARU has rubbished Andrew Forrest’s claims that the Force was on the Super Rugby chopping block as early as February.

Forrest claimed on Wednesday morning that he had documents that stated as early as February 24 that the Force was the team in the ARU’s sights when it came to chopping a side, despite the national body maintaining an exhaustive process had been followed in making the decision.

Though he said he had released the documents, these are yet to make their way into the public sphere and the ARU vehemently dismissed the idea that there was any document that would detail such a call.

ARU chairman Cameron Clyne, who Forrest asked to resign when speaking on Wednesday morning, completely dismissed Forrest's accusations.

“The decision to discontinue the Super Rugby licence of the Western Force was made by the ARU Board on August 11, 2017 and this was communicated publicly immediately when that decision was made," the statement read.

“For the record, RugbyWA has been provided several opportunities to put its best business case for the Western Force to the ARU Board, from April 10 right up until our final request for this information on August 2, 2017.

“Andrew, in his press conference this morning, referred to a document or documents which indicated that a decision had been made to remove the Western Force in February. This was not the case and there are no documents which contain this information.

Clyne said while Forrest may have been given documents that presented arguments about the Force's possible axing, he was adamant none of these would have included a categorical recommendation to cut the Force based soleyl on legal advice.

“At various stages of this process, the ARU Board has requested recommendations and information from ARU management to assist with making its decision," he said.

“I can only assume that Andrew has been provided with a document that contains some of the analysis that was undertaken by ARU management at the request of the Board, to assess the many implications and considerations for exiting each of the three teams we originally assessed, which included the Brumbies, Melbourne Rebels and Western Force.

“As we have previously announced, there was an extensive analysis conducted on each of these teams and one of the key issues we assessed was the legal risks associated with any decision to exit one of those teams.

“These legal risks were factored into our decision but the Board still had options outside of legal avenues to pursue its course to remove a team.

“At its April 9, 2017 meeting in Sydney, the ARU Board decided to further assess those options for the Force and the Melbourne Rebels.

“Around this date, ARU commenced discussions with the Melbourne Rebels owners with a view to assessing the option of acquiring the Melbourne Rebels licence. These discussions were confidential so we are not able to disclose the exact details. The Western Force Super Rugby licence was owned by ARU.

Bill Pulver says timing was against the ARU. Photo: Getty ImagesOnce the VRU bought back the Rebels license, Clyne said, the ARU's hands were tied and Forrest's offer came too late.

Forrest had earlier in the day, described the ARU's process as an 'ambush', revealed by these documents.

“It's clear now with the document I have just received that the Western Force was ambushed,” he said.

“It's been bullied and the submission which the ARU has looked for will not happen.

“There has been a charade which I think has been inducted onto the Australian sport-loving people, that the decision to cut the Western Force was based on merit, based on performance, based on on-field success or otherwise based on the supporter base and most importantly based on finance.

“The document which I have released, came from caring members of the business community, I am a business person and it shows clearly that late in February this year, the advice was received and taken to cut the Western Force for no other reason apart from legal advice.

“This is what I have stood up for, this is what I have accused the ARU of, of litigating of lawyers and not leadership, of choosing not for merit, but choosing to cut because they could bully a team to submission.

“I'm here to say to the ARU, ‘You cannot bully this team, your ambush has been sprung, you have now been discovered’."

Forrest said he had only learned of these documents this week, and would have come to the Force’s aid sooner had he known, slamming the ARU for suggesting his involvement had come too late in the process.

"I know what 11th hour looks like and I certainly know what bullies look like. I'm saying to you, this is not 11th hour, this is not too late, this wonderful team behind me and this state of supporters and everyone who believes in a fair go in Australia, says it's not too late," he said.

“I would've immediately called it for what it was, and said, ‘Spare Australia, spare the code of rugby union this charade, this long facade and just come out and say you've received legal advice the only club you can cut is the Western Force,” he said.

The ARU has notified its members of an EGM to be held on June 20. Photo: Getty Images“Every time I am told that I came to this too late, I know that is the words of someone conducting an ambush.

“I feel I've suffered like all the fans of fairness in sport, a gross misrepresentation.

Forrest maintained a call forClyne to resign over the process, though defended outgoing CEO Pulver, suggesting he was simply following orders.

“He would have been completely aware and as you and I am are aware of the chain of command, particularly in business, he would've been just doing his job as a faithful and honest servant,” he said.

“As late as yesterday, he was saying sadly Andrew came to this too late - well, of course he's repeating the instructions of his chairman.”

 Long-time Force skipper Matt Hodgson echoed Forrest’s calls.

“I think when this whole process started, that's when it started not going in the direction they were thinking of, that's when he should've stood down.

“The way rugby's trending at the moment, it's disappointing to see one of the greatest games in the world suffer in Australia because of lack of vision and lack of direction.”

The result of the Western Force’s appeal against an arbitration decision that allowed the ARU to move to axe the Force will be handed down next week.