Sinderberry, Howarth question culling process in Senate

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

RugbyWA chairman Tony Howarth and former Rugby WA CEO Mark Sinderberry have questioned the legitimacy of the ARU's process in culling the force.

Speaking at a WA Senate inquiry, Howarth and Sindeberry were questioned by Senator Linda Reynolds, shortly after ARU CEO Bill Pulver had faced questioning.

The majority of the discussion focused on the confidentiality of the alliance agreement between RugbyWA and the ARU.

Pulver had refused to discuss the matter, citing commercial confidence, but Sinderberry, who finished up at the Force last week, raised the point which was revealed a fortnight ago - that VRU president Tim North was handed a copy of the agreement while discussions were being held to buy back the Rebels from Imperium Sports Group.

"Tim North said to me that there were three people in the room - the most senior person was Bill Pulver, the in house counsel, and the other person was Rob Clarke, the COO," Sinderberry said.

"The first two have denied, absolutely, giving him the document.

"The Rebels were told that they weren't at all at risk."The Force have been fighting for survival all year. Photo: Getty ImagesThat, in Senator Reynolds' eyes, was a point worth exploring.

"So the Victorian Rugby Union had a copy of the document which Mr Pulver wouldn't release?" Reynolds asked.

"So this confidential agreement that the ARU today wouldn't release to the Senate and to the public - in terms of the alliance - because he said it was in commercial confidence between you and the ARU, you're happy to provide a copy?"

After Sinderberry and Howarth confirmed that they would in fact be happy to provide a copy, Senator Reynolds clarified the point.

"Victorian Rugby and the Melbourne Rebels had a copy of your confidential alliance agreement at the very same time that the same person, who was negotiating with them, with a copy of your document, is actually dealing with RugbyWA, on your agreement."

The discussion had earlier looked at the potential conflict of interest in having former ARU COO Rob Clarke run the decision making process.

"So you have an organisation that for financial reasons, has to go from five to four teams, they've come to you, won't give you a loan that Melbourne has got or even an advance of your own money," Reynolds said.

The Force have raised concerns regarding whether they were ever given a fair chance in the fight to survive. Photo: Getty Images"They've told you that you need to go into an alliance to get some form of financial assistance and you've got the same person negotiating that, that has just come out of the Melbourne Rebels, who is also doing the analysis of the arrangement.

"Did you not find that a little unusual, to say the least?"

Sinderberry confirmed that he did, in fact, find that unusual.

"I'm glad you saw it as unusual as well," he said.

"I would have thought, myself, that's a slight conflict of interest and we will take that up with the ARU, I assume his conflict of interest was declared to the board," Reynolds replied.When asked about participation figures, Sinderberry pointed to "Saturday numbers" as evidence "true participation" is far better in the west than it is in Victoria.

"My understanding is that during this time, the Western Force has done particularly well with our Saturday numbers," he said.

"In that area we were well ahead of the Victorians.

"They were ahead on this experience type thing, where they are going to schools and that type of thing.

"In what I call true participation, we were double their numbers.

The hearing continues on October 11, before a report is prepared by the Senate committee.