Board members lashed as Rebels booted from Super Rugby

Rugby Australia Melbourne Rebels Press Conference
Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh and Rugby Australia Chair Daniel Herbert in Melbourne. (Photo by Morgan Hancock/Getty Images)

Melbourne Rebels officials declared it was a “sad day” and a court battle looms after Rugby Australia rejected an application from a consortium seeking to take over the embattled club choosing instead to shut it down after 14 seasons.

The news was delivered to staff and players on Thursday morning, as the club prepares for a first ever Super Rugby finals appearance and RA chair Daniel Herbert said those upset member of the Rebels board, including some who were part of the resurrection consortium, had “let rugby stakeholders down in Victoria” through poor financial management of the club.

“And while this is not a crack at people individually, they are people who love rugby, we are now six years away from when Rugby Australia paid $13.8 million towards Rebels debts back in 2017 and gave an additional $6 million of funding,” Herbert said as the lack of financial viability of the consortium’s proposal, and a lack of detail, was revealed as the key reasons for RA’s decision to shutter the club.

“There’s been tens of millions of dollars that has been spent on this franchise over and above other Super Rugby clubs, and (now it’s) to be $23 million in debt again.

“I think they have let rugby stakeholders down in Victoria and rugby stakeholders more broadly.”


The Rebels were placed in administration in January this year with debts owed to creditors exceeding $23 million and any rescue plans were abandoned with players contracted beyond this season to have their deals paid out, with clubs in Japan, Europe and even the NRL set to pounced on the likes of superstar Taniela Tupou.

RA boss Phil Waugh said the consortium led by business heavyweight Leigh Clifford who put forward a plan to fund the club until 2030 failed to provide any substantial detail, with Herbert calling it “embryonic” and “very underdeveloped”.

“I was very clear when the Rebels went into voluntary administration that we would make a decision as quickly as we could with all the appropriate information,” Waugh said

“We received that information last week and had a presentation this week and we then analysed all of the information and we made the decision as quickly as we could to give certainty to players and staff.

“RA does not take this decision lightly, however it must act in the best interests of the game and its stakeholders, and to provide certainty for the Rebels’ players and staff, and all Super Rugby clubs in planning for the 2025 Super Rugby Pacific season.

“Given the lack of detail made available to RA, the lack of transparency and the significant doubts over the Consortium’s proposed financial model, RA has determined that there is an unacceptable level of risk associated with entering into a Participation Agreement with this Consortium for the 2025 Super Rugby Pacific season.”

Rugby Australia Melbourne Rebels Press Conference
Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh and Rugby Australia Chair Daniel Herbert in Melbourne (Photo by Morgan Hancock/Getty Images)

Waugh, said they remained committed to having a strong rugby presence in Victoria and would now focus on “supporting the impacted staff and players at the Rebels”.

“It has been a testament to the players, coaches, team management and support staff that they have managed to deliver such a competitive season on the field in extremely difficult circumstances – and we are looking forward to seeing the team fighting in the Finals for the first time ever,” Waugh said.

“I want to thank the Rugby community for its patience and ongoing support of the code. Rugby Australia’s focus right now is on supporting the impacted staff and players at the Rebels.”

The man behind the failed consortium, Leigh Clifford, suggested there could yet be a court battle to resolve the matter.

“The Melbourne Rebels never want to go to court, but Rugby Australia’s actions to turn their backs and not negotiate on a common sense $18 million rescue plan has left the Club no choice,” he said.

All club staff, including coach Kevin Foote, will be without a job when the Rebels’ season ends, which is likely to be in two games time, pending what would be considered a miraculous finals wins given the situation now facing players.

RA and the Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) still discussing options for player movement within Australian rugby.

But players who were contracted to the Rebels through to the end of 2025, including the likes of Wallabies star Tupou, have the option of playing overseas with their contracts now void.

The Rebels will play their final regular season game against the Fijian Drua on Saturday in Fiji having already secured a maiden finals spot despite the tumultuous events of 2024. .