Super Rugby club’s future under threat as boss hits back with ‘scapegoat’ claim

There are fears for the future of Super Rugby’s Melbourne Rebels after up to $9 million in debt was revealed after a Rugby Australia inspection of the club’s books.

News Corp reported RA cannot bail out the team but will make every move it can to save the team from folding, with the organisation desperate to remain at five teams.

But the report stated a forced merger with the ACT Brumbies, who also have financial questions, was at least a possibility.

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“Rugby in Victoria is very important to Rugby Australia and it is our intent to continue to have a footprint there in both provincial and Test rugby,” an RA spokesman said.

“We are working together to overcome the challenges that the Rebels are currently navigating.”

Rebels CEO Baden Stephenson declared the club will survive.

Nic White of the Brumbies passes the ball during the round 11 Super Rugby Pacific match between Melbourne Rebels and ACT Brumbies at AAMI Park, on May 07, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

“I’m absolutely not concerned about the Melbourne Rebels’ ongoing tenure, we’ve got big things coming in 2025 (British & Irish Lions tour) and 2027 (home World Cup), we’ve got a lot to be proud of but also to improve on,” Stephenson said.

“But we will be fine.

“We’ve been operating with reduced funding due to Covid since November 2020, it’s been challenging no doubt for all Super Rugby clubs. I am confident in the leadership and the board that I’ve got.

“We’re not sitting back and throwing our hands up saying ‘Poor us’. We only just announced a five-year partnership with La Trobe University (on Monday).”

Stephenson went on to claim in a separate interview with The Age that he feels as if the Rebels have become “scapegoats and [have been hanged] on the cross”.

“All of [the Super Rugby club’s] business models are all under severe pressure, and where that has stemmed from is, like everyone, we had COVID-reduced funding back in March 2020,” he said.

The Age also reported that the Rebels have since written to players and staff to assure that their jobs will be safe in 2024.

One of the Rebels’ major sponsors, BRC Capital, is in the midst of solvency issues while the club must pay a significant tax bill in three weeks’ time.

No Rebels staff or players are contracted beyond 2025.

RA’s reliance on funding from the Victorian government, and the huge crowd at the Bledisloe Cup Test at the MCG last year, make the southern state vital for the code’s future.

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