Australia faces rugby strike over Super Rugby 'plans'
Last Updated: 31/03/17 11:51am
Australia's professional rugby players may go on strike early next year if one of the country's Super Rugby teams is axed as part of a shake-up of the competition.
Tournament organisers are expected to make an announcement soon over the structure of the competition which currently comprises of 18 teams from five countries.
South Africa has six teams, Australia and New Zealand five each, while newcomers Japan and Argentina each have one.
Talk that Australia may be stripped of one team has led to discontent from within Australia's Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA).
A RUPA spokesman told AFP that it had no comment on "the suggestion of strike action", adding that a current collective bargaining agreement precluded any industrial action for the rest of the year.
"The provisions of the CBA, which is in effect until December 31, prevent any industrial action of this nature occurring," the spokesman said.
Organiser SANZAAR announced nearly three weeks ago that a shake-up was imminent, but since then the governing body has been mute on the issue.
With games played in cities straddling 17 time zones, travel schedules can be intense, while the quality of play has been criticised and the tournament is also hard for fans to follow.
Speculation has been rife that the competition will be trimmed back to 15 clubs, with South Africa losing two of its six teams and Australia cutting one of five.
It was reported earlier this week that Western Force, which was founded in 2005, would lose its place at the top table of club rugby in the southern hemisphere.
The players' union is understood to be ready to argue for an increase in squad sizes and salary caps to factor in the 30 or so players that would be cut adrift by any decision to reduce the Australian contingent from five teams to four.
Former RUPA boss Greg Harris believes the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) is to blame for the current situation.
He said: "The professional game evolved out of player militancy. It might well be that player militancy again is the only action which looks after the best interests of the game in Australia because there are no indications that the ARU are performing this task at present.
"The Australian Rugby Union has only itself, and especially its leadership, to blame for the abyss which it finds itself in.
"Courage, knowledge and leadership are required to make professional rugby work in Australia and in order to create a vibrant community game that underpins it all.
"Hiding behind the skirts of the other SANZAAR parties when hard decisions and the best interests of Australian rugby are at stake shows a distinct lack of leadership."
During his time as RUPA chief executive between 2010 and 2015, Harris argued strongly against 18 teams, commissioning a report that recommended the ARU pursues a trans-Tasman model with New Zealand or go it alone with a domestic competition.
RUPA has launched a petition to save the five-team model in Australia and a statement reads: "Super Rugby can only change if the ARU votes for it. This is the ARU's call.
"We have five Super Rugby teams all eager to participate in the competition and who have committed to being commercially viable.
"Whether it's 18, 16 or 15, there are competition models which support five Australian teams. But the ARU may decide that one team won't be given the chance to continue."