Australia's professional rugby players may go on strike early next year if one of their Super Rugby teams is axed in a shake-up of the competition, a report said on Friday.
Fairfax Media said Australia's Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA) is considering pre-season strike action if one of the country's five Super Rugby teams is cut.
A decision on the structure of the unwieldy tournament, which has grown to 18 teams from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and Argentina, is expected next week.
A RUPA spokesman told AFP Friday that it had no comment on "the suggestion of strike action", adding that a current collective bargaining agreement precluded any industrial action for the rest of the year.
"The provisions of the CBA, which is in effect until December 31, prevent any industrial action of this nature occurring," the spokesman said.
Organisers SANZAAR announced nearly three weeks ago that a shake-up was imminent, but since then the governing body has been mute on the issue.
With games played in cities straddling 17 time zones, travel schedules can be intense, while the quality of play has been criticised and the tournament is also hard for fans to follow.
Speculation has been rife that the competition will be trimmed back to 15 clubs, with South Africa losing two of its six teams and Australia cutting one of five.
A report this week said the Western Force, which was founded in 2005, would be chopped, but the Perth-based club rejected the account as "totally false".
- 'Permanent damage' -
Fairfax said the RUPA executive and board were examining all the options available as the axe hovers over 20 percent of Australia's professional player base.
The union cannot take industrial action during the term of its collective bargaining agreement, but it is understood to be mulling the option during the Super Rugby pre-season next year, the report said.
It is also understood RUPA also planned to go into negotiations for the new agreement arguing for an increase in squad sizes and salary caps to factor in the 30 or so players that would be cut adrift, Fairfax said.
Former RUPA boss Greg Harris has urged the body to "seriously assess" what industrial action it could take should the news be bad for an Australian team.
"The professional game evolved out of player militancy," Harris was quoted as saying.
"It might well be that player militancy again is the only action which looks after the best interests of the game in Australia because there are no indications that the ARU are performing this task at present."
During his time as RUPA chief executive between 2010 and 2015, Harris argued strongly against 18 teams, commissioning a report that recommended the ARU pursue a trans-Tasman model with New Zealand or go it alone with a domestic competition.
RUPA has also launched a petition to save the five-team model in Australia, warning of "permanent damage" to the game if a Super Rugby team was cut.