Rebels have a cause as Super Rugby axe hovers
RUGBY UNION: As speculation continues to swirl that an Australian Super Rugby club will be axed before next year, the ARU insists the Melbourne Rebels will be fine if they perform on the park.
But having not made the finals in their previous six season, ARU chief operating officer Rob Clarke says "the expectation is there now for the Rebels to perform".
This Super Rugby season - which kicks off with the Rebels playing the Auckland Blues at AAMI Park on Thursday night - is the second to be played with 18 teams, following last year's introduction of clubs in Tokyo, Buenos Aires and Port Elizabeth.
But the competition's peak governing body SANZAAR has not ruled out cutting two sides after this season - with one of South Africa's six and one of Australia's five in the gun.
The Western Force have battled financial issues for years, while the ACT Brumbies have also run in to some off-field problems.
Outcomes from a SANZAAR Executive Committee meeting next month are expected to shed light on the preferred Super Rugby model beyond 2017.
Clarke, who was the Rebels chief executive in 2013-14, said he is confident in the direction the Rebels are heading.
But he said it was no longer right to make excuses for the youngest of Australia's sides.
"The expectation is there now for the Rebels to perform," Clarke told the Herald Sun.
"The work has been done. I think they've got the players. They've got the administration and the support from (managing director) Andrew Cox and the owners. The ingredients are all there.
"What the Rebels should be focusing on is doing the best they can do on the field.
"Nobody in business will axe a successful product. All of us need to be successful.
"That said, SANZAAR has its own challenges. There are some big meetings coming up as to changes in competition formats possibly from 2018. No decisions have been made on that and there's nothing really else to say at this point.
"The Rebels, like all the other teams, need to get out there and do the best that they can on the paddock, the rest will look after itself."
The Rebels averaged crowds of just over 10,000 last year, with a membership of 9276.
Melbourne is one of the most competitive sporting marketplaces in the world, but Clarke is confident the club has not hit its glass ceiling in terms of support.
"I really think if the team is winning more consistently it will happen," he said.
"It's just like AFL teams and the like, the crowds will come if the team is winning.
"Melbourne is a great sporting market, they love all sports, it's not just about AFL.
"And so I think if the Rebels can get some consistent wins on the board and the message out that they're winning in an international competition - the only international club competition in town, which helps to differentiate them - then I think they'll do well."