Rebels

ARU turns it’s ‘Super15’ back Victorian Rugby

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Victorian rugby was in an uproar yesterday after the Australian Rugby Union awarded the Sydney-backed VicSuper15 consortium the Melbourne Super 15 licence if, as expected, SANZAR approves the Australian bid in October.


Months of petty politicking and infighting within Australian rugby ended with the Victorian Rugby‘Union, though supported by a virtual Who’s Who of Melbourne, being sidelined by the ARU board, offered nothing more than a position on the interim board of the new privately funded company.


A bitterly disappointed VRU president Gary Gray could not say last night whether the union would be involved with the VicSuper15 group, which is to be chaired by former ARU director Bob Dalziel and backed financially by Sydney-based mining entrepreneur Kevin Maloney.


At a meeting with ARU chief executive John O’Neill and his deputy Matt Carroll on Monday, Maloney, a long-time patron of the Southern Districts Rugby Club in Sydney, pledged to invest $2 million of the required $10 million capital base.


The Belgravia Group’s Geoff Lord, chairman of the Melbourne Victory A-League football club, also has been invited by the ARU to invest in the new professional franchise and no doubt will be aiming to rationalise his soccer operation by taking on such tasks as promotion, marketing and ticketing for the new Super 15‘club.


The ARU also intends inviting existing VRU investors to come on board but in that they will be disappointed.


VRU bid chairman Harold Mitchell said yesterday all the principals of the official Victorian rugby consortium had withdrawn, taking their money with them.


Former World Cup-winning Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen, a key adviser to the VRU bid, confirmed last night he too had withdrawn from the process.


On July 8, The Australian reported that Moorabbin club president Steve Curnow had widely circulated an email in which he claimed that “members of the ARU” had told him that “Victoria had a snowflakes (sic) chance in hell of the ARU ratifying a VRU bid for a Super XV licence while Gary Gray is president of the VRU”.


It is now understood the VRU was provided with legal advice that before it submitted its expression of interest for the expansion licence, it should lodge a legal document with the ARU placing it on notice that it believed the whole process of selecting which consortium should win the licence had been fatally compromised.


The VRU chose not to act on that advice, believing it would only further undermine its chances, but certainly the manner in which the ARU rammed through its private equity model will be subjected to severe scrutiny in the weeks ahead.


“We’ll be taking the matter up formally with the ARU board, as we will also be advising our brother state unions across Australia of the circumstances surrounding this process,” Gray told The Australian.


At no stage during the selection process did the VRU deal or even speak directly with O’Neill, according to Mitchell. “I put in calls to John O’Neill but he hasn’t returned them,” Mitchell said.


“This (the selection of VicSuper 15– which also features three dissident ex-VRU directors Craig Dunn, Glenn Fowles and Nick Farnan) seems to be a puzzling selection by the ARU board,” said Mitchell. “It would be unfortunate if rugby turned its back on Melbourne.”


Maloney professed not to know of the ARU’s decision when contacted by The Australian late yesterday for comment.


Asked how long he intended to fund the new franchise, Maloney replied: “The franchise is a five-year term so you’ve got to put yourself in for the duration.”


Beyond that? “Who knows? If it’s profitable, you could be there forever. I might end up bequeathing it to a sporting body.”


Maloney denied there was an $8m shortfall between what he personally planned to invest in the new team and what the ARU regarded as its optimum capital base – although it is understood the ARU more realistically believes the operation can function on an annual budget of $6m.


“The directors (of VicSuper 15) have committed real cash as well,” he said.


“The figure of $10 million is a preferred capital base. In this market, it might be doable. I haven’t applied my thinking to it.”


Maloney insisted the VRU had to be part of the new organisation. “You can’t put this thing together without them being involved. Melbourne needs a home-grown player base. The VRU is Melbourne rugby.”


It is understood, however, that the VRU will have little or no say whatever in the appointment of the team’s coach and CEO. That’s an appointment the ARU, which will have two directors on the initial interim board, intends to make on its own.


With thanks to The Australian

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