Rebels

Melbourne Super 15 bid leads the race again

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Melbourne’s chances of being named the new team when Super Rugby expands to a Super 15 in 2011 were boosted as peace broke out between the two factions bidding to be the competition’s Victorian representative.


The new Super 15 team will be either from Melbourne in Victoria or the Eastern Cape’s Southern Kings from South Africa – but whoever wins the team will play in the to be formed Australian conference which gives Melbourne an enormous “leg-up” on the Kings.


The new Super 15 concept will feature a new three pool or conference system and an extra round of home derbies which provides SANZAR with more matches to sell to broadcasters without the enormous costs of international travel. By choosing Melbourne SANZAR could save millions in travel costs.


The Melbourne bid however has been a troubled bid. Three parties submitted their bid to be named the Super 15 team and the Australian Rugby Union chose to put the city forward and wanted all three parties to join forces to form “an irresistible bid”.


The three bidding consortiums were unable to find common ground and the low point came last week when Vic Super15 pulled out of the bid.


Another twist was added this week when the Melbourne Rebels and Vic Super15 consortiums announced they would merge into a single entity – to be known as the Rebels and led by advertising guru Harold Mitchell.


The deal was hammered out in the past three days after the main players met in Mitchell’s South Melbourne office.


It leaves the unified Melbourne bid as a strong front-runner to win admission to the competition from 2011.


“It took some time but ultimately everybody realised it was better to all be in together,” Mitchell told the Sydney Morning Herald.


“There has been much comment and speculation about the competing forces in the effort to bring Super Rugby to Melbourne. Today that ends.”


The compromise has strong backing from the State Government, which is keen to see the Rebels ensconced at the new Swan Street rectangular stadium, and has also been accepted by the Australian Rugby Union.


Disunity and internal competition had threatened to scupper Melbourne’s bid for the 15th Super Rugby licence as both bid teams, the Victorian Rugby Union and the Australian Rugby Union bickered in recent months over which bid should be put forward by Australia and how the consortium should be set up.


Given that the only other contender for the spot is South Africa’s Eastern Cape consortium and that the winning bidder would be expected to play home matches in Australia, it would have been a disaster for Australian Rugby if the factions had lost out to the South African bid because of internal fighting.


Mitchell said he was no expert on rugby but that he was an expert on Melbourne and what it would take to succeed in the city’s crowded sporting market.


“You can tell me more about rugby than I will ever know but what I can tell you about is this great city,” he told the gathered guests at a Edward ”Weary” Dunlop lunch.


Ray Evans, a director of the VicSuper15 consortium, backed by Sydney businessman Kevin Maloney, had initiated the compromise on Friday and said it was in the best interests of rugby in Victoria.


“Certain directors and investors in VicSuper15 have agreed to join forces. We all agree this will help galvanise the game and the rugby community in Victoria,” he said.


The Australian Rugby Union had awarded Vic Super15 the right to be Australia’s bidder but later revoked it after a series of disputes about the role of the Victorian Rugby Union. The state body appears to have accepted a lesser role in the new entity, though VRU chief Gary Gray is still expected to be a behind-the-scenes force.


Gray said the VRU would give its blessing to the merger.


“We must be engaged and we must be respected,” he said. “That’s non-negotiable. But we go forward confident and we go forward excited.”


With time running out until the SANZAR governing body makes its decision on October 21, the process of joining the two bidders into one entity will be overseen by ARU appointee John Wylie.


The major players from both sides are to be represented on a board that will be presided over by Mitchell. There was a bullish confidence yesterday that – having overcome the internecine strife – Melbourne was well placed to secure the Super 15 licence.


Melbourne Victory owner Geoff Lord – at one stage leading a third Melbourne bid – will not be an investor but has lent his support.


Plans are already under way to link with Victory and share back-room staff, cutting overheads in areas such as membership sales and merchandising.


Gray said the consortium was hoping for regular crowds of 15,000 with larger showings for high-profile fixtures.

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