Former Australian Rugby Union chief executive Gary Flowers.
Former Australian Rugby Union chief executive Gary Flowers. DEAN LEWINS

Quartet of powerbrokers trying to rescue Force from cull

A GROUP of heavyweight rugby identities and millionaire businessmen are plotting to save the Western Force from Super Rugby oblivion.

The "big four" behind the campaign include former ARU chief executive Gary Flowers and the Force's inaugural chief Peter O'Meara.

Alongside them are highly successful businessmen Jon Collins, himself a former ARU and Waratahs director, and ground signage guru Raymond Burke, who has pledged to pump $50 million into the Force over the next 10 years if he can strike a deal with the West Australian government.

Flowers, O'Meara and Collins have all purchased shares in the Own The Force campaign, which insiders say has pledges of $8 million.

"This idea of community ownership is worth exploring, and Perth is a unique market compared to Queensland and NSW because of the connection to the community," O'Meara said.

"We've all been involved in rugby for a long time and we are right behind this - are we all silly?"

Burke, who co-owns New Zealand's Highlanders franchise, had a proposal to take over the ground signage and ticketing at Force's home ground nib Stadium rejected by the previous WA government, but it has been resubmitted.

"We are not asking for any money from the government, we're just asking for assets that we will turn around and invest into the Western Force, and I guarantee that if they give us the support the Force will win a premiership in five years like the Highlanders did," Burke said.

While that proposal is being reviewed by the government in Perth, the Force still has significant financial support flowing through.

Collins, who sold his Sykes Group business in 2010 for $55 million, has not ruled out a private ownership bid of the club depending on the outcome of the legal writ the franchise has taken out against the ARU.

"The Own The Force campaign is a great initiative, I will be investing in it, and then I will be talking further to Peter (O'Meara) about what we can do once the legal action put in place has been resolved," Collins said.

"I was an ARU director from 2002-04 and we looked in detail at the two proposals from Perth and Victoria when we were introducing a new team, it was a resounding 'yes' for Perth to get the next Super Rugby side.

"While they haven't had success in winning the competition, there has been great success in junior development and grassroots enthusiasm.

"Western Australian fans will feel as though they've been led down the garden path with what's happened at the ARU over the past four months."

The ARU announced last Monday that either the Force or Melbourne Rebels will axed from the tournament.

Flowers, who was running Australian rugby when the Force were introduced to Super Rugby in 2005, said it was imperative to see them remain in a rejigged 15-team tournament from next year.

"Rugby can legitimately become the No.2 code in Western Australia (behind AFL), in Melbourne AFL is clearly No.1, then there is massive support for football, and then you've got the Storm who are very entrenched in the city," Flowers said.

"It is a tough job that the ARU have, one of the things I'm not sure has been done is an assessment of the impact of cutting a team.

"It's very well to say there's a risk in keeping the same format, but what about the damage of losing a team."

Crowds across the SANZAAR board have been down since it was announced that three teams, including two from South Africa, would soon be axed.

News Corp Australia

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