Force agree to be part of Super Rugby AU, door not yet shut on Sunwolves

Rugby Australia's upcoming Super Rugby AU competition will have at least five teams after the Western Force have officially agreed to sign off on its involvement.

WA's professional rugby franchise had been part of discussions with Rugby Australia throughout planning for the competition but earlier this month said they had yet to receive a "formal invitation" to be part of that competition.

The official tick of approval came on Wednesday from Force owner Andrew Forrest and is a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to working towards a rugby resumption.

With the Force involved, Super Rugby AU will certainly involve at least five teams in a 12-week tournament kicking off on July 3 and running until September 19.

The competition could yet have six teams, with Rugby AU interim CEO Rob Clarke refusing to shut the door on the Sunwolves as they await a government call on whether players would be able to come into Australia for the competition.

Even if the government does allow the Sunwolves to convene in a hub in Australia, players would likely have to spend two weeks in quarantine upon arrival, leaving them little time to trian together before a slated July 3 kickoff.

Clarke said with the Force officially ticked off, broadcaster conversations were the next big ticket item to finalise.

 “We are very pleased that Western Force has come on board for Vodafone Super Rugby AU and we look forward to releasing the final elements of the competition, including the season draw in due course," he said.

“We remain in dialogue with the Sunwolves around their potential involvement in the competition, but we now know that we have at least five teams secured and will continue our discussions with Fox Sports and our commercial partners over the coming days.”

Forrest confirmed on Wednesday that the franchise would be part of the competition in 2020, committing financial support for the team as well.

The mining magnate was quick to stress that involvement was only for 2020, with his focus on the Force's Global Rapid Rugby competition.

“I want what is best for rugby in Perth and in Australia and to ensure the game flourishes,” he said.

“My views on the mismanagement of the game under the previous Rugby Australia administration are well known and remain steadfast. Change is imperative at the top for rugby to thrive long term.”

Forrest has had discussions with incoming Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan, who welcomed the Force's return and interestingly, also apologised for the "pain" of the decisions that saw that the Force axed from the Super Rugby competition back in 2017.

“The return of the Western Force in an Australian based competition is a great story. We are grateful for Andrew Forrest’s support and understand that decisions made by Rugby Australia in 2017 were painful for sports fans in Western Australia and the Force players, and we are sorry that they haven’t been able to share in the rivalry against their fellow Australian teams," he said.

“I would love to continue to work with Andrew into the future as we use this opportunity to innovate and reinvigorate rugby right across the country."

“Our Australian derby clashes are always up there with the most popular matches each season and it will be great to see those rivalries ignited again in a national competition.

"Wallabies spots will also be on the line as Dave Rennie and his coaching team run a keen eye over the competition ahead of the international season." 

The Force was initially set to play in its own Global Rapid Rugby competition in 2020 but with numerous international teams involved, that tournament was cancelled last month.

With WA's borders set to remain closed for the time being, it is expected the Force will be brought into an east coast hub for the beginning of the competition.

Forrest said he felt their support for the competition was "for the good of the sport".

“I am prepared to help out RA and new chair Hamish McLennan in a time of crisis, for the good of the sport," Forrest said in a statement.

“Rugby Australia cannot afford to miss this opportunity to restructure and reinvent every aspect of the game – its governance, cost structure, rules, competition construct, partnerships with broadcasters, commitment to grass roots and, most importantly, engagement with the fans.

“I developed and launched Global Rapid Rugby across the Asia Pacific region to prove how rugby can be played – fun for the players, fast moving, high scoring and always entertaining.

“The Australian sporting public deserves to see more of that style of rugby. A game which keeps up with the times and is not mired in a myriad of laws. A game which returns rugby to its former national prominence and international appeal. A game that will be embraced by the Asia Pacific region as relevant, culture strengthening and entertaining.

“Until I see evidence that reinvention is at the core of any strategic plan RA comes up with, it will be difficult to commit to a long-term investment.”