Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Super Rugby: Time to axe the Force

Perth experiment has failed and plug needs pulling before even more money is wasted
The Force have constantly struggled since their inaugural season in 2006 never making the playoffs. Photo / Getty
The Force have constantly struggled since their inaugural season in 2006 never making the playoffs. Photo / Getty

It's time for Australia to admit defeat with the Western Force. Admit the bold experiment of taking rugby to Perth hasn't worked and bin the Force.

Admit that giving Australia five teams hasn't worked and cut them back to four for 2017.

The Australian Conference hasn't suddenly reached this point of hopelessness and awfulness - it's been in steady decline for the better part of the past decade.
The right thing for the Australian Rugby Union would be to apply a cold, clinical assessment of the current situation and agree that they have to pack up and leave town for the greater good of not only the game domestically in Australia but of Super Rugby.

The position appears untenable. The Force are being bankrolled by the ARU because the club can't stand on its own feet financially. The Force don't have the support from fans or sponsors and it's wishful thinking to believe that ambitious players are going to want to sign with the club just because the ARU thinks they should. A few big names - Mat Giteau and Nathan Sharpe - headed west in the early days, but it was third party money that lured them and they didn't stay.

In 11 campaigns, they have never made the playoffs or even come close. And since the Force launched in 2006, the Reds, bar a two-year period in 2011 and 2012, have lost any semblance of competitiveness. The Rebels have only further diluted the playing pool since they launched in 2011 and they look like they could play for another lifetime and still not get any better.

Australia have had one champion side in 11 seasons and that says it all. This is chronic, terminal decline - not a bad year as a few are trying to suggest. A bad situation is only going to get worse - worse, because the ARU doesn't have deep enough pockets to prop up the Force indefinitely.

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The Force can't be salvaged. Australia have neither the money, players nor coaches to stretch across five teams and even if they did find a way of fixing the Force, it would only be at the expense of one of their other teams.

The ARU, determined to spread rugby away from the Eastern Seaboard, won't be interested in listening to calls for the Force to be axed after this campaign. But pride will stop them from seeing that they need to take a step back and consolidate - and then, maybe, in time they can think about expansion when the case to do it is stronger.

But no doubt they will cling on, determined they are right and that Australia can make five teams competitive. They can stay in denial, convince themselves that in 12 months, the cycle will turn and that Australian sides will suddenly be jostling each other for playoff spots. They will be in a state of delusion if they do that. Australian sides are being hurt by a lack of foundation skills. They don't have the basics sorted and their players don't appear to be well enough drilled or conditioned.

If they axe the Force, they can tighten their talent pool and bulk up their coaching teams. And hopefully, they can start winning more games, build confidence and wider interest in the sport.

Giving up on the Force is the right thing to do - however much it might hurt the ARU to admit that.

Force struggles

2006 - 1 win (finished 14th)
2007 - 6 wins (7th)
2008 - 7 wins (8th)
2009 - 6 wins (8th)
2010 - 4 wins (13th)
2011 - 5 wins (12th)
2012 - 3 wins (14th)
2013 - 4 wins (13th)
2014 - 9 wins (8th) Best season
2015 - 3 wins (15th)

- NZ Herald

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