AUSTRALIAN rugby is heading off a financial cliff and faces collapse as the culling of a Super Rugby side becomes more complex.
A decision of the arbitration case between the ARU and WA Rugby will be handed down next week, but even if the Force lose they will continue to fight for survival in the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Melbourne Rebels' private owner Andrew Cox has sold his license to Victorian Rugby Union for $1 in a quiet deal that was only confirmed through ASIC documents showing the change of hands late Friday.
The ARU, who must cut one of the two teams to save $18 million over the next three years - a figure that would send them broke if they had to pay it - were still trying to make contact with Rebels officials late Saturday to query how the deal was done.
It's the ARU's belief that any change of ownership needs their oversight, but the Rebels clearly have been given legal advice that the ownership change could be done without any sign-off by the ARU due to a put agreement in their contract.
WA Rugby chairman Tony Howarth described this situation as "embarrassing for the ARU".
"We remain confident that the arbitration decision will go our way, but if it doesn't we've said and Andrew Forrest has said we're not going to stop there," Howarth said.
"We won't be done in by a group of people sitting in Sydney who think they understand the running of the game when they've been so fundamentally bad that people don't want to go to Test matches any more.
"They can't start blaming others for that. There comes a point when they have to take the blame."
If the ARU cannot axe a team, chief executive Bill Pulver and chairman Cameron Clyne would have to resign.
But the financial problems would remain; how to save $6 million a year that would go to the fifth franchise.
In their understandable bid to save themselves, the Force and Rebels could sink the ship.
Australian rugby has never faced such a serious crisis.
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