Threatened franchises Western Force and Melbourne Rebels will know within days who will be axed from the troubled Super Rugby competition, the Australian Rugby Union said Monday amid a backlash.
Governing body SANZAAR announced Sunday that two South African teams and one from Australia would be culled from the revamped 2018 southern hemisphere tournament amid financial losses and widespread fan discontent.
ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said the Force and Rebels will soon learn which of them survives after consultations with both, adding that he supported SANZAAR's decision to cut a team.
The decision to axe either one means the ACT Brumbies, NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds are safe and will be in the 2018 competition.
"We don't anticipate this final consultation period being a drawn-out process and expect to be able to deliver an outcome in the very near future," Clyne told a media conference.
"It is important for me to clarify that the decision to remove a Super Rugby team from Australia was a decision made by the ARU, not by SANZAAR.
"This outcome however was only made possible by a consensus vote by the four SANZAAR partners and has been a complex process involving the many stakeholders in the competition across the globe."
The Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA) blasted the move, accusing the ARU of protecting Argentina's Jaguares and Japan's Sunwolves at the cost of one of their own.
"Having signed Australian rugby up to a competition which reduced local content, diluted tribalism and disrespected fans with its lack of integrity, ARU have now agreed to a new model which has protected the expansion teams in Argentina and Japan at the cost of one of our own," RUPA chief executive Ross Xenos said in a statement.
"Despite receiving Aus$30 million ($22.5 million) of additional annual broadcast revenue from 2016, the financial challenges of Australian rugby will likely be used to justify the short-sighted and ill-conceived decision which will limit the growth of rugby in Australia for generations to come."
- Player exodus -
Clyne insisted the move was in the best interests of Australian rugby with the franchises bleeding money.
"Super Rugby has placed an increasingly heavy burden on the ARU business in recent years and the acceleration of revenue declines in our Super Rugby businesses has placed the game under extreme financial pressure," he said.
"The additional funding provided by the ARU to offset Super Rugby losses has severely limited our capacity to invest further in our grassroots and high performance areas such as player and coach development."
Clyne said in addition to falling revenue, the changing global rugby market place had posed challenges for the southern hemisphere competition.
"Since the ARU expanded to five Super Rugby teams in 2010, the economy we operate in globally has changed dramatically," he said.
"With the incentives on offer in Europe, the player exodus has been significant in Australia and indeed across our SANZAAR partners. Based on recent performance trends, it is evident that we do not currently have the playing depth in Australia to service five teams in Super Rugby."