ARU CEO Bill Pulver says the national body remains unmoved from its plan to remove a Super Rugby team this season, with legal proceedings looming.
The ARU heads into arbitration with RugbyWA on Monday, with that process likely to be decisive in the Force’s fate.
It is believed the sticking point in the arguments is whether a modified 2018 format would create a new broadcast agreement or simply modify the original, under which the Force believes it is guaranteed a Super Rugby place until 2020.
Starting on Monday, it is hoped the arbitration will only stretch the timeline out by weeks, rather than months, depending on the reaction to the final decision.
Both parties had agreed to go into arbitration and it seemed initially that both had committed to adhering to the arbitrator’s call, but Force general manager Mark Sinderberry has hinted that they could appeal if the decision goes against them.
Meanwhile, in Melbourne, there has been reports Andrew Cox has moved to sell his license to the VRU, though any sale would have to be rubber-stamped by the ARU, a development all but impossible until the arbitration is complete.
Pulver said on Thursday at the Uni 7s launch that the ARU would not stray off their path of looking for four teams in 2018.
“My position is unchanged in terms of the fact that we need to go to four teams,” he said.
“Frankly, Australia doesn’t have either the financial capability or the player depth to justify staying at five teams.
“That position has not changed.”
ARU chairman Cameron Clyne suggested he may fall on his sword should the four-team plan fail but Pulver described that comment as ‘academic’, given their unwavering stance on four teams.
This saga, that has now dragged on close to 11 months since 2018 change was flagged by SANZAAR, is likely to give rise to new ARU leadership, with Pulver already hinting on a number of occasions that he wouldn’t be seeking re-appointment when is contract comes up in February.
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Two high-profile executives, former chief operating officer Rob Clarke and chief financial officer Todd Day, have departed in recent months, though their departures are not believed to be solely linked to the Super Rugby developments.