In an incredible twist, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has raised the prospect of no Australian Super Rugby team being cut after all.
Giving Western Force and Melbourne Rebels renewed hope, despite the ARU last month announcing that one franchise must go under SANZAAR’S downsizing plans, Cheika said any such scenario remains a big “if”.
Cheika’s revelation comes amid claims that the ongoing uncertainty is affecting players’ mental health, with Rebels assistant coach and former Wallaby Morgan Turinui on Tuesday branding the seemingly endless process a “disgrace”.
Meanwhile, News Corp Australia has reported a consortium headed by former Wallabies captain Rocky Elsom is seeking to purchase the Rebels’ licence from owner Andrew Cox.
With SANZAAR resolving to reduce the competition from 18 to 15 teams in 2018, the ARU promised five weeks to announce within “48 to 72 hours” which Australian franchise would be chopped.
But with both the Force and Rebels threatening legal action, claiming the governing body had no right to remove them, the ARU removed the deadline – before putting up a cone of silence.
South Africa, who agreed to cut two franchises, is facing similar turmoil, with the Cheetahs and Kings also fighting threats of extinction.
“The time frame issue, there’s so many moving parts to this. You don’t actually know where the resolution is going to end up,” Cheika said on Fox Sports’ Super Rugby: Kick and Chase program.
“So I think there’s still to make a broad range of decisions on and we’ll just see what happens with that.”
Asked what message he had to players’ families caught up in the saga, Cheika said intriguingly “there’s no guarantees” any team will be axed.
“We know in Australia that there’s a general attrition of somewhere between 10 or 15 per cent of players in any year,” he said.
“They either go overseas, retire, etc, etc, and we think that not too many of our players who are currently in the system would miss out if that happens – (a franchise is cut).
“And I’ll say ‘if’ that happens because there’s no guarantee that that’s going to happen.”
Cheika’s words of hope would seem cold comfort to Rebels captain Nic Stirzaker, who has again called for the ARU to make a call for the sake of all those suffering.
“It’s definitely having an impact,” Stirzaker said.
“But it’s not just players, it’s staff as well.
“The uniqueness of our situation is that we were sort of given guarantees that we had a future in Super Rugby and then almost weekly there’d be a new rumour that we didn’t and then maybe we do.
“So that rollercoaster spread a lot of anxiety and inability for guys to plan for their lives, which I really feel for them and the whole group.
“There’s a lot of us in the group who have knocked back opportunities overseas or elsewhere with the belief that the club’s going to be around and now we’re not so sure.
“All those things create a lot of stress for the guys, guys that have had just had families, just had babies or have kids at new schools, or don’t know whether they can sign a new lease.”