Teams slam SANZAAR over Super Rugby cuts

While New Zealand has come off unscathed in the Super Rugby rejig and the changes seem to be positive for the country's five teams it's a different story across the Tasman and in South Africa where plenty of angst still remains.

It appears the Brumbies, Reds and Waratahs are in the clear, but the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels have been left to battle it out for survival.

Last month, the Force was widely tipped to be the Australian team to get the chop.

But it has since emerged that it will be a genuine two-horse race for survival between the Force and Rebels.

The Australian Rugby Union will now let the two endangered franchises plead their case for survival.

The ARU has scheduled a media conference for chairman Cameron Clyne and chief executive Bill Pulver in Sydney today, but it's understood they won't name which team will be cut just yet, but rather put a timeline on their decision.

Force chief executive Mark Sinderberry said he was confident the Perth-based franchise would survive the axe, saying the 'Own the Force' campaign was just one compelling reason to keep the team.

"We're going to be financially independent of the ARU, and on top of that we're the third biggest rugby community in Australia," Sinderberry said.

"To walk away from that would be a very brave man.

"We're very confident about where we stand.

"Our rugby program, our finances, facilities we have, and community support have always been stronger than anywhere else in Australia.

"In 2005, there was something like 185 junior teams in WA.

"In 2016, we are up to 238 teams. That's the impact of having the Western Force here."

Force foundation player Matt Hodgson welled up with tears when talking about the prospect of the team being axed.

"Being a parent myself, you don't know where to put your kid now," Hodgson said.

"Do I put him in rugby, or do I stay in WA and have him playing AFL.

"It's frustrating. The way it's been done is probably the most annoying thing. Dragged on.

"I've done four press conferences this week and I've had one rugby question. That's annoying.

"For kids to turn up here is great. But now they don't know if the Force are going to be their future."

Force coach Dave Wessels said the news that one Australian team will be axed was a sad day for rugby.

"I hope that we live to fight another day and are given the chance to realise some of our potential," Wessels said.

Heavy financial losses and fan discontent finally convinced SANZAAR to cut the competition from 18 franchises to 15.

The competition will also be reduced from four conferences to three.

New Zealand's five-team conference will remain intact.

Japan's Sunwolves will join the Australian conference, while Argentina's Jaguars will play in the South Africa conference.

The Port Elizabeth-based Kings and Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs are considered the most vulnerable South African franchises, with South Africa rugby indicating they won't make a final decision until June.

"Naturally we understand that there will be some very disappointed franchises," SANZAAR chairman Brett Impey said.

"But the tournament's long-term future and the economic reality of the business at present is something that had to be addressed."

The 18-team format, introduced in 2016 after Argentina's Jaguars and the Sunwolves of Japan joined the competition and the Kings returned, was widely criticised and there were fears the quality of the product was being diluted.

Impey said it was important to retain the struggling Sunwolves in order to have a footprint in the lucrative Asian market.


Photo: Supplied Western Force are on tenterhooks awaiting word of their future.