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Rugby: Merger plan to form eastern seaboard powerhouse

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Georgina Robinson, Chris Dutton, David Polkinghorne

The Waratahs, Reds and Rebels are considering merging their operations to form an eastern seaboard rugby powerhouse under a radical proposal to be put before the ARU board at the end of the month.

In what could be the biggest reform to the structure of rugby in Australia since the game turned professional, the three east coast provinces would retain their independence but report to a head of Super Rugby, who would in turn be answerable to ARU boss Bill Pulver.

The Brumbies and Force are understood to have opted out of the proposed collaboration at this stage but have not ruled out joining the new entity in the future.

The Brumbies are still searching for a new chief executive but the club is expected to finalise its decision any day.

The Brumbies are down to the final candidates and hope to have a new boss before the Super Rugby season kicks off on February 22.

In the eastern seaboard plan, NSW, Queensland and Melbourne would hand over limited control to the ARU but retain ownership of assets.

Fairfax Media understands the proposal, while still in the very early stages of negotiations, aims to pool the three unions' assets and create a bigger, more powerful player in the Australian sporting landscape.

It would also bring Australia a step closer to the centralised model used in New Zealand, where the five Super Rugby teams maintain control over their own administrative and membership operations but cede control to the NZ Rugby Union on issues including high performance.

The concept is understood to be driven by Pulver, using the commercial success of the Queensland Reds - who are targeting 50,000 members by the end of the year - as a template for the new entity.

QRU chief executive Jim Carmichael is said to be a front-runner to head up the new operation if it gets off the ground.

Pulver would not comment on details of the proposal but said the ARU met regularly with Super Rugby bosses to talk through options for the future.

''I have made no secret of our financial challenges at an administrative level,'' he said. ''Doing nothing is not an option and our discussions within the Australian rugby community will continue.''

The ARU board will meet next on February 24 and it's understood the proposed east-coast collaboration is high on the agenda.

The ARU already controls the Rebels, taking the Melbourne club under its control last year after founding backer Harold Mitchell cut off his funding. But NSW and Queensland, the two biggest rugby markets in the country, are said to favour the proposal.

Talk of further centralising the Australian Super Rugby teams has been on the agenda for some time against a backdrop of difficult financial circumstances.

The cash-strapped ARU has, among other measures, imposed a controversial $200 levy on every junior team and senior club in the country.

The governing body, which largely props up the Super Rugby clubs but exerts no control over their operations, finished with a $10 million surplus last year despite bringing in $140 million in revenue.

That revenue is projected to drop to $100 million this year and $80 million next year due to the World Cup.

Wallabies players have already agreed to have their match fees slashed from $14,000 per Test to $10,000.

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