SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 10:  Bill Pulver, CEO of Australian Rugby Union,  speaks to the media during an ARU press conference at ARU HQ on April 10, 2017 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 10: Bill Pulver, CEO of Australian Rugby Union, speaks to the media during an ARU press conference at ARU HQ on April 10, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images) Brendon Thorne

ARU chief admits Super Rugby expansion was a mistake

BESIEGED Australian rugby chief Bill Pulver admits that agreeing to expand Super Rugby to 18 teams was a bungle.

The ARU is expected to announce the demise of the Western Force by Thursday, as part of a reduction from 18 teams to 15 that will also result in South Africa losing two teams just two years into the expanded tournament.

Pulver is copping most heat from disgruntled Australian rugby fans who believe expanding to include Argentina, Japan and an extra South African side has indirectly led to this week's cutting of teams under great financial strain.

But Pulver intends to see out his five-year contract, which expires next February, despite also backtracking on earlier statements that Australia needed a national footprint including Western Australia to grow.

"I acknowledge there's a lot of heartache out there and believe me, if I thought stepping aside would advantage Australian rugby in any sense at all, I would do it in a heartbeat," Pulver said.

"I promise you I am here for the game and that's the only reason I do it.

"If I thought someone could do a better job I would step away immediately. It's not an easy task. I'm committed to doing it and I'm enjoying it.

"I have had a discussion with the board, and I am here totally at the whim of the board. As long as the board has confidence in me, I will remain. If they lose confidence in me, I will happily step aside."

SANZAAR expanded Super Rugby to 18 teams in 2016.

"In retrospect, I think that was probably a mistake," Pulver said.

"But at the time we had a partner in the South African Rugby Union who had a very complex political environment where the government was essentially saying that unless you field the additional team of the Kings, you're out.

"We had Argentina, who had been a really constructive addition to the Rugby Championship but saying that they had to keep their players in Argentina through the presence of a (new) Super Rugby team.

"And we saw the economic merits, the expansionary merit, of having a Japanese team.

"But, look, sitting here today I acknowledge that that was a mistake. That competition has not delivered the outcomes we wanted.

"I'm not, however, convinced it's the 18-team competition that has led us to losing a team today."

Pulver confirmed that he would not be seeking another long-term reappointment.

"I originally came in on a five-year agreement, I'm not going to seek a five-year agreement," he said.

He added: "Sadly it is very clear to me now that we cannot sustain five teams, either from a financial perspective or a high-performance perspective," Pulver said.

"Look, it's tragic to think of one team being dropped but long-term this is in the best interests of Australian rugby."

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