'Shrinking the sport': Legal threat after Rebels axing

'Shrinking the sport': Legal threat after Rebels axing

Rugby Australia chief executive Phil Waugh claims a consortium bidding to rescue the Melbourne Rebels were given every opportunity to press their case as an ugly legal battle now looms.

The Rebels were informed by RA on Thursday that they would not be playing Super Rugby Pacific next season.

Business heavyweight Leigh Clifford had led a consortium that said it could revive the Rebels and proposed to move the club’s base to Tarneit.

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Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh and director of high performance Peter Horne.

Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh and director of high performance Peter Horne. Getty

But Waugh told reporters in Melbourne that the group had not presented a compelling case to be entrusted with a licence.

RA has run the cash strapped Rebels since January but does not have the financial footing to keep doing so.

“We’ve given an enormous amount of time to that consortium to come forward with information,” Waugh said.

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Rebels players run through a banner at AAMI Park.

Rebels players run through a banner at AAMI Park. Getty

“We split that information into five different requests for information.

“The first one being financial viability. The second one being governance and risk. The third being commercial strategy. The fourth being high performance. And the fifth being growth of the game.

“We finally got the information or some of the information that we’d requested in the middle of last week in a data room.

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“We’ve analysed that information at great lengths. And then we met with one member of the consortium earlier this week. Again, giving the consortium every possible opportunity to put forward a compelling case to support the Melbourne Rebels in 2025.”

Clifford told The Age that he now planned to sue RA.

“The Melbourne Rebels never want to go to court, but Rugby Australia’s actions to turn their backs and not negotiate on a common sense $18 million rescue plan has left the club no choice,” Clifford said.

Dejected Rob Leota and Sam Talakai of the Rebels react.

Dejected Rob Leota and Sam Talakai of the Rebels react. Getty

“Rugby Australia is shrinking the sport, abandoned any pretence they are a serious national competition and cut off the pathways for girls, women, boys and men to live their dream of playing professional rugby for their local team.

“The fact that Rugby Australia recently chose to provide millions of dollars in financial support to the NSW Waratahs and provide not a cent to the Rebels says everything Victorians need to know about their priorities.”

Waugh fired back: “Every dollar that we spend in court is a dollar that doesn’t get invested into the game of rugby around Australia. It’s disappointing that if that is the path it goes down, then those individuals that have had the best interests of rugby at mind choose to damage the game going down that path.”

Rugby Australia chairman Daniel Herbert speaks to the media.

Rugby Australia chairman Daniel Herbert speaks to the media. Getty

And RA chairman Daniel Herbert argued the consortium provided “a lack of detail and transparency.”

“We’ve been waiting for some time to allow the consortium to get as much information and as much detail and accurate information to us to make a decision,” he said.

“That wasn’t forthcoming to the satisfaction of what we would deem a reasonable level of risk. So we’ve had to make that decision today for the 2025 season, for the men’s Super season only.”

Ironically, the Rebels have qualified for the finals for the first time and will play the Fijian Drua in Lautoka on Saturday.

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