ARU boss Bill Pulver has confirmed billionaire Andrew Forrest pledged to tip between "$10 million and $50 million" into rugby to save the Western Force but the offer came too late for the ARU to change its mind on cutting a team.
Forrest met with ARU chairman Cameron Clyne and directors John Eales and Brett Robinson in Adelaide last week and, as part of his campaign to save the Force from getting axed, the mining magnate offered to tip a sum reported to be about $50 million into Australian rugby if the WA club was secured.
The offer was declined by the ARU and a subsequent appeal by WA Rugby against the Force's axing was heard in the NSW Supreme Court. A decision is expected late this week or early next week.
Speaking at the launch of the NRC in Sydney, Pulver confirmed the figures around Forrest's offer and indicated the ARU may have been more receptive if it didn't come at the 11th-hour.
"We are delighted to see Australians like Andrew Forrest get involved in the game and potentially support the game. I wish he had been involved in the process a little earlier, that would have been helpful," Pulver said.
"I wasn't in that particular meeting and I understand a range of $10 million to $50 million was tabled in relation to investment in the Australian Rugby Foundation. Right now, we need support for Super Rugby, so that's our priority."
The Australian Rugby Foundation is rugby's fundraising arm.
Forrest has previously offered to underwrite the Force's losses, but the terms, conditions and exact amounts of Forrest's entire offer remain unclear.
But asked why Australian rugby wouldn't jump at a potentially huge $50 million investment, Pulver reiterated "timing" was a major issue.
"We are way down the track. It is sitting here about five months from kick-off in the Super Rugby competition, and we are well down the track in terms of having made commitments to SANZAAR to go to four teams. And having had an EGM where our members voted to go to four teams," Pulver said.
"It is a little late in the process to be making that sort of change."
Last week Clyne said in a statement the ARU had been asked by Forrest about retaining the Force in a 16-team competition.
"However a 16-team competition was eliminated by SANZAAR during its review process based on a number of factors. These factors included the extensive cost and limited appeal of a 16-team round-robin competition, player welfare issues due to extra travel requirements, and the loss of popular home and away 'derbies' in each country," Clyne said.
The outcome of WA Rugby's appeal will now dictate everything. If the ARU loses, it'll have to return to SANZAAR and say it couldn't cut a team and presumably one of the back-up plans will be returning to a 16-team competition - presumably without Forrest's money.
Pulver declined to reveal what the ARU's "plan B" was, or if it had one.
"We will deal with that when we get to it. Basically we will find out next week what the result of the appeal is and we will respond to that," he said.
Pulver said he expected Western Force fans to "sidle up" to him next week and relay their thoughts on the decision, and he backed the movement to wear blue jerseys to the Wallabies Test against South Africa on Saturday week.
"I am delighted to see the rugby fans in WA supporting their team," he said.
"Unfortunately it is the right thing for Australian rugby to go to four teams. If you looked at the Super Rugby season we just finished we were 0-27 against New Zealand teams. From a player depth perspective we are not adequate and from a financial perspective we don't have the resources to get there.
"So it is the right decision unfortunately and I feel very sorry for those Western Force."
Pulver said he backed the idea of keeping the Perth Spirit in the NRC into the future even if the Force was folded up.
"I absolutely do. We really want to make sure there is the appropriate player development pathway in every corner of the country, including WA. My own personal view is that an NRC team is a very important part of that pathway," Pulver said.
The ARU has appointed a recruitment agency to find Pulver's replacement and the outgoing CEO expects to hand over the job "before Christmas".
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