Billionaire Andrew Forrest Launches Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship
Mining billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest wants the Australian Rugby Union to "pave the way for Australia's best players to be eligible for his new Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship," which is set to start in August next year, according to Dutton & Helmers of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD. But "while the war in the west is nearing calmer waters, tension is still bubbling under the surface as parties fight for integrity in separate competitions." Forrest unveiled plans for his new competition on Wednesday. He wants to "lure forgotten Wallabies back to Australia to help the game flourish" by matching the rich deals on offer in Europe and Japan with "proportionate contracts." The timing of the tournament will not clash with Super Rugby, but it "collides with the ARU-run National Rugby Championship which desperately needs high-profile players." The ARU and Forrest are reportedly "yet to reach an agreement on how Wallabies eligibility will be affected" if players want to join the Indo-Pacific competition (SMH, 9/14). The AAP's Justin Chadwick reported Forrest insisted he "buried the hatchet" with ARU Chair Cameron Clyne. That is in "stark contrast to a few weeks ago," when Forrest called on Clyne to resign after the decision to axe the Western Force from Super Rugby. Forrest said that the pair "made peace" before the Wallabies' clash with South Africa last week. Forrest said, "There's been a fair bit of water under the bridge with Cameron and I. We had a frank and friendly discussion when he was here recently. We were cast as adversaries. We did not agree with the cancelling of this magnificent team [Western Force]. In that adversarial form, we did have to go a little toe to toe" (AAP, 9/13).
'TIME TO COME HOME': REUTERS' Ian Ransom reported Australia "loses much of its top rugby talent to competitions in Europe and Japan every year, with players willing to ditch their Wallabies aspirations for more lucrative contracts." Overseas-based players are only eligible to play for Australia if they have been capped 60 times. Forrest said that the IPRC would provide a "credible alternative to keep local talent on Australian soil." Forrest: "I would say we are prepared to go toe to toe for the first time in Australian rugby's history with anything that is put on the table for an Australian player from Europe or Japan or the other destinations where our 130-odd Australian, Super Rugby-standard players are now residing overseas. We need to say, 'Hey boys, it's time to come home'" (REUTERS, 9/13). In Sydney, Iain Payten reported rather than continuing his "months-long brawl with the ARU," Forrest said that the focus was now "collaborating" with the governing body. Under Forrest's offer, Aussie players will be "contracted for four months to the IPRC but still be available for Wallabies selection." Forrest's "big selling point" for the ARU was a pledge to invest "significant resources" to fight the "cashed-up leagues" in Europe and Japan, and "help keep top stars in Australia, or repatriate them from overseas." Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is free to call those players into the Wallabies but in a "reciprocal" deal, Forrest wants all other Aussie players to be "free to play in the IPRC after finishing up in Super Rugby" (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 9/13).
WORLD CUP DREAMS: THE AUSTRALIAN wrote when all the "motivations and competing emotions" are stripped away from Forrest's reasons for establishing his own int'l rugby competition, it is "all aimed at one objective: the Wallabies winning the 2019 World Cup." What began as a "punitive raid, intended to strike back" at the ARU over its decision to cut the Western Force from Super Rugby, has "moved with remarkable speed to become a co-operative, multifaceted attempt to repair the ills of Australian rugby at the elite end." Of Forrest, Western Force coach Dave Wessels said, "I've spent a lot of time with Andrew over the past couple of weeks and I've come to realize that he is, through and through, a rugby fan. He's doing this for the right reasons. In a word, what he wants is for the Wallabies to win the next World Cup." Although Forrest insists that he has had expressions of interest from 20 countries, he "intends kicking off his competition next year with a Perth team -- the remnants of the Force -- and five other Asian and Pacific countries." Which ones, "he is yet to determine," but he listed Singapore, Samoa, Fiji, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Sri Lanka and Malaysia as "prime contenders." Forrest said, "I really need to get over there and talk to them, look people in the eye. What I prefer to do is go and see the sports ministers and the like and just gauge their own levels of enthusiasm and commitment" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 9/14).
'CROSSROADS': FOX SPORTS' Sam Worthington reported former Wallaby Stephen Hoiles said that Forrest's proposed new competition forced the ARU into a "crossroads" decision with "huge ramifications for the future of the game." Hoiles, who played 16 Tests for Australia and is now a pundit for Fox Sports, said, "We'd be absolutely foolish as a game to turn our back on this idea completely. Look at what Frank Lowy did for soccer in Australia -- and that's the opportunity. We're at a crossroads. The current Super Rugby model is broken and whether or not it can be fixed or continue under SANZAAR -- that's what the next couple of years will tell us" (FOX SPORTS, 9/13).