Unique and unprecedented circumstances have seen the Western Force return to join a new domestic Australian Super Rugby competition proposed to kick off next month amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While the news is good for the people of Western Australia, the move will effectively see the Sunwolves stint in Super Rugby come to halt because of travel restrictions forced by the government. The news means the Sunwolves have almost definitely played their final Super Rugby match after just nearly five seasons in the competition.
The new competition that will involve Australia's four Super Rugby teams in a home and away round-robin series beginning on Friday, April 3. The Force were dumped from Super Rugby by Rugby Australia in 2017 in a messy divorce but billionaire Andrew Forrest has since kept the club alive. However, the next Super Rugby season is still expected to be played as a 14-team competition, meaning the Force's involvement in this tournament would likely be a one-off.
The Force were set to feature in Forrest’s Global Rapid Rugby competition — featuring teams across the Asia-Pacific — however, it was also cruelled by coronavirus.
All matches will be played behind closed doors, in the same vein as the NRL and AFL competitions.
A release from Rugby Australia said it had approached the Force to replace the Sunwolves while New Zealand and South Africa are also exploring reworked domestic competitions.
The Full Release:
The four Australian Super Rugby clubs, Rugby Australia, and RUPA have agreed to proceed towards the finalisation of a domestic competition model as part of SANZAAR’s solution for the remainder of the 2020 Super Rugby season.
The 18-round Super Rugby season was suspended at the completion of Round 7 following travel restrictions imposed by the New Zealand and Australian Governments, and over the past week officials from across each of the five countries involved have held talks over the future of the 2020 competition.
The continuation of the competition in Australia will involve the four Australian teams playing within Australia only, in a round robin home-and-away format beginning on April 3. Discussions are continuing at SANZAAR level and with competition broadcasters on the specifics of the draw and Finals Series. All matches would be played in closed venues in line with current Australian Government restrictions on public gatherings.
Following the unfortunate withdrawal of Japan’s Sunwolves, who are part of the Australian Super Rugby conference, due to new travel restrictions imposed by the Australian Government on Thursday, Rugby Australia has approached the Western Force to join the four Australian Super Rugby teams to play in the new proposed domestic model.
Rugby Australia Chief Executive, Raelene Castle said: “Rugby Australia, the four Australian Super Rugby teams and RUPA are united behind the continuation of Super Rugby in 2020 and have been intensively working towards a competition solution with our SANZAAR partners over the past six days. There are still some elements to work through as a group, but we are extremely confident that we will deliver a meaningful product for the remainder of the season for fans and broadcasters.
“We have agreed on the principles of proceeding down the path of a domestic solution in Australia which will see our teams compete against each other in a round robin format from April through June, followed by a yet to be determined Finals Series format.
“While our focus has been on developing a competition model that will enable us to meet our commitments to fans and broadcasters, careful attention has also been given to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect the welfare of our players, support staff and match officials under the new proposed model. The Chief Medical Officers of each nation have been integral to these discussions, and together with the announcement of the new competition we will be announcing a range of measures and protocols to be introduced for the remainder of the season in the interest of protecting and safeguarding our athletes.
“In what has been a challenging time for everyone in our sport, we have seen the Rugby bodies in Australia come together to put their full weight behind finding a way for our game to continue in 2020 and on behalf of Rugby Australia I offer our sincere gratitude to SANZAAR and each of our Super Rugby teams, RUPA, Global Rapid Rugby and the Western Force, and FOX SPORTS.”
“We hope to provide a further update on the Super Rugby season with our SANZAAR partners in the coming days.”