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Super Rugby's Rebels or Force to be axed

NZN 9/04/2017 Justin Chadwick

The Brumbies are in the clear, but the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels have been left to battle it out for survival after it was confirmed one Australian team will be axed from Super Rugby.

SANZAAR ended months of speculation on Sunday when it confirmed the Super Rugby competition will be reduced to 15 teams from next season.

Two teams from South Africa and one from Australia will be axed as part of the cull.

Last month, the Force were 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 at 9.30am in Sydney on Monday, but it's understood they won't name which team will be cut just yet.

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 Jaguares will play in the South Africa conference.

SANZAAR left it to the national rugby unions concerned to announce the teams they are cutting.

The Port Elizabeth-based Kings and Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs are considered the most vulnerable South African franchises.

"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 Jaguares 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.

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