Cape Town – Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chairman Cameron Clyne has taken aim at Force backer Andrew Forrest, indicating “there would have been a far different outcome” had the mining magnate come forward when the saga began 18 months ago.
Speaking at ARU headquarters on Tuesday, Clyne expressed empathy for the Force players, fans and staff alike before explaining how the situation could have drastically changed had Forrest put his hand up earlier.
“We’ve been in constant contact with Rugby WA right through the process,” Clyne told the Australian Rugby Union’s official website.
“One of the frustrating things here is that there has been a lot of opportunities for Rugby WA.
“We stepped in there and bailed them out 18 months to two years ago because no one came forward.
“I’m really frustrated and disappointed that there was obviously a desire late in the piece for some support.
“I just don’t understand why Rugby WA didn’t contact Andrew Forrest in April – this would have been a far different outcome.”
Clyne also expressed his frustration at a lack of a substantial offer on August 2, nine days before the arbitration found in favour of the ARU and the move to cull the Force was made.
“I’m also bemused as to when we wrote to Rugby WA on August 2 saying “what is your best and final position?”, they didn’t come back with anything substantial,” he said.
“I guess I feel for the rugby fans of WA and I particularly feel for the playing group but I guess I’m also really frustrated that there were so many opportunities where we engaged and unfortunately, we had to make a decision.
“Once a decision has been made, it’s very hard to unpick that decision.
“Where was it on August the 2nd? Where was it in April and where was it when we bailed them out 18 months ago?”
“It’s been a difficult time but we stepped in there 18 months ago and we were looking, at that point in time, for other people to come out and help them out,” he added.
“In the end, the ARU stepped in and helped them out to the tune of millions of dollars to help the team through.
“Towards the back end of last year there were talk and promises of potential backers and they fell through again.
“I don’t know, post April, when we made the decision that it would be out of two teams, why we weren’t contacted or no one came forward at that time.
“The support came late and late support is better than no support and I guess that is why we were really bemused on August the 2nd when we wrote to Rugby WA, we were expecting a substantive financial package, off the back of what we had read in the press.
“Obviously that didn’t come, there was an offer of interest free loans and things but at that point in time, that was an inferior package to what Victoria put through and we had to make a decision, so we made that decision.”
Matt Hodgson spoke from the heart earlier on Tuesday and Clyne said he would be happy to sit down with the former Force skipper and explain the decision.
“During the legal process there have been requests to not engage in talking to players,” added Clyne.
“We are more than happy to sit down, we absolutely respect the contribution Matt has made to Australian rugby and the Western Force in particular.
“That is a genuine offer from us and we will definitely do that if that is something he would like to do.”
While Clyne extended the olive branch to Hodgson, he wouldn’t be drawn on whether Force players would be eligible for the Wallabies should they play in Forrest’s rebel league.
“We have said all along that we are honouring contracts with the players, we obviously want to work with the players,” he said.
“We are providing support to Rugby WA employees through the process and with RUPA, obviously we are a supporter of, are providing player support.
“I don’t have any view as to what happens if there is some sort of other competition but certainly we have indicated that the ARU contracts will be honoured.
He also responded to Forrest’s repeated calls for him to resign.
“That’s up to our members,” said Clyne.
“Our members are in a position at any point in time to call a meeting and seek that to occur.
“The members have endorsed me twice this year – once in April and again at the EGM.
“We put this to them – the members support four teams going into the competition so obviously if the members take a different view, they’re more than welcome to.”
Finally, Clyne spoke to the importance of Australian rugby finding success on field once more, ahead of the new broadcast deal in 2020.
“We’ve been vindicated twice now in the legal process, we’re now looking forward to a competition where there is going to be four strong Australian teams,” he said.
“The 15-team format, with three conferences of five is a better format.
“What is important is that we are positioning Australia, too, for the next broadcast agreement.
“There is a lot of interest in new competition formats but Australia’s best position will be if we are playing well.
“We have gone from winning more than 60 percent of our games, to winning about 40 percent of our games and we need to get that winning percentage up – that will put us in better shape.”