The Force may not fold but their time in Super Rugby, as they explore a rebel competition, appears to be over.
How did it get to this point?
RUGBY.com.au took a look back at the significant events and how they unfolded, starting with the ARU’s takeover of the franchise last year.
On June 3, the ARU were forced to step in and provide financial backing to save the Force to stop them from folding.
At the time, ARU CEO Bill Pulver denied any suggestion that the club would be forced to relocate, backing the Force’s “unique brand”.
Own the Force
With speculation swirling that SANZAAR was going to push to reduce the number of teams in Super Rugby to 15, Rugby WA announced the Own the Force campaign.
The campaign emulated the blueprint laid out by the Green Bay Packers in the NFL and football giants Barcelona FC, offering fans a stake in the club for $1000.
WA Road Safety steps in
The Force had battled to secure a naming rights sponsor in the lead up to the Super Rugby season but the WA Road Safety Commission deal eradicated any fear of going into the season without one.
The deal, worth $1.5 million, was a huge boost for the club ahead of a season in which they turned their on field fortune around.
Rob Clarke speaks out
Ahead of the SANZAAR meeting which confirmed the culling of one Australian team and two South Africans teams for the 2018 season, then-ARU COO Rob Clarke fronted media in Canberra.
Clarke was uncommitted when asked about the future of the three franchises that were in the firing line, with the Brumbies not yet ruled out at that point.
“All I can say is you don’t axe or walk away from a successful product,” Clarke said.
“So, it’s our collective challenge in Australian rugby to make sure our products are successful and if the Brumbies keep doing that along with the other Super Rugby clubs and the Wallabies continue to be successful then we should have a healthy future.”
Haylett-Petty signs on until 2019
Dane Haylett-Petty has been one of the many Force players that backed the future of the franchise throughout this saga and he made his intentions when he signed on with the club in late February.
After announcing his contract extension, Haylett-Petty said the ARU would be “crazy” to cut the Force.
“I think when the Force came in, it was all about growing Wallabies and I think throughout the years they’ve definitely done that,” he said.
“They’ve produced plenty of great Wallabies and added to Australian rugby so I think it’d be crazy to let go of a team like that.”
Broadcasters hold key
After a SANZAAR meeting in London, the national bodies returned home to talk to the respective broadcasters.
“Following two days of robust discussion there are a number of tournament considerations that now require further discussion and consultation,” SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said in a statement at the time.
“This includes final consultation within the National Unions and discussion with key stakeholders that would allow the adoption of changes proposed by the strategic plan.
“SANZAAR will make a formal statement on the future of the organisation, Super Rugby and the tournament format in the coming days once these further meetings have been concluded.”
After The Daily Telegraph reported the Force would be the team to go, both the franchise and the ARU immediately moved to quash any suggestion a decision had already been made.
“Under no circumstances do we believe today’s speculation around the future of the Road Safety Western Force to be true,” a Rugby WA statement read.
“Two-and-a-half weeks ago, through a national phone link-up all clubs were told that the ARU through the governing body, SANZAAR, was investigating a number of issues and those issues had to be resolved prior to a decision being made to reduce any of the Australian franchises.
“There has been no further contact from the Australian Rugby Union to any of the Western Force players or staff, so at this time there is no further comment on the matter until substantiated facts are put forward.”
SANZAAR announces cull
On April 9, SANZAAR officially announced the competition would feature 15 teams in 2018.
Two South African teams and one Australian team were to be cut.
There was no deadline set but the ARU set one themselves, with the now infamous “48-72 hours” statement made a day later.
48-72 hours to make a call
After admitting the 2016 expansion was a mistake, Pulver and Chairman Cameron Clyne committed to making a decision on which franchise would be axed in “48-72 hours”, a comment that would come back to haunt them.
148 days later, the Supreme Court dismissed Rugby WA’s appeal of the arbitration decision.
At that same press conference, Pulver and Clyne backed the future of the Brumbies, declaring them safe for 2018 and beyond.
RUPA, VRU take action
Dissatisfied with the transparency of the ARU decision, RUPA and the VRU called for a special general meeting of the ARU board.
The Force, at this point, appeared to be putting together a case that would save them from the axe, with attention shifting to the Rebels.
Sindeberry backs ARU board
With the EGM called during the June Test window, Force GM Mark Sindeberry ruled out any potential move against the ARU board.
Speaking at a members forum, Sindeberry eliminated any thought the board should be rolled and even backed the process the board had followed.
“We’re not convinced that rolling the ARU board actually achieves anything,” he said.
“I think when you look at it, in some ways the board has actually been through a quite difficult (time) but actually made some key decisions at some key times that actually insisted that there was some period of consultation.
“There was a critical time there where the board stepped up and actually ensured there was a process.”
No change after EGM
The EGM was held on June 20 and all parties emerged unscathed.
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Importantly, all states voted in favour of reducing the number of Super Rugby teams from five to four, backing the direction of the board.
There was still no timeline set on when a team would be cut, though, and that added to the frustrations of rugby fans around the country.
Forrest backs Force
From the clouds, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest emerged after the Force’s final home game of the Super Rugby season.
Forrest addressed the players after their win against the Waratahs and declared he would do “whatever it takes” to ensure they did not fold.
Arbitration en route
On July 31, 112 days after the decision was made to cut one of the Australian franchises, Rugby WA and the ARU announced they would begin arbitration.
Cox hands back control
The Rebels effectively secured their future when Andrew Cox sold the franchise back to the VRU on August 4, for $1.
RUGBY.com.au revealed the documents had been lodged with ASIC on Friday afternoon, giving the VRU a controlling stake in the franchise and therefore eliminating any chance the Rebels would be forced out of the competition in 2018.
It was the second time the Rebels had been handed back to the VRU, with Harold Mitchell and a group of private owners having followed the same process in June 2013.
Arbitration finds in favour of ARU
On August 11, the ARU released a statement revealing a “decision had been made to discontinue the Western Force”.
The arbitration decision had come back in favour of the ARU and the move to shut the Force down came in the immediate aftermath.
In response, Rugby WA sought legal advice and after receiving an injunction, appealed the decision in the Supreme Court.
The following day, ARU board member Geoff Stooke resigned.
Supreme Court dismisses appeal
The Supreme Court dismissed Rugby WA’s appeal today, leading Forrest to announce the introduction of a “rebel league”.