Australia's Super Rugby culling saga has entered a potentially decisive phase as the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) and the Western Force go into arbitration.
The ARU and Rugby Western Australia (RugbyWA) are set to begin arbitration on Monday, a process that is hoped will bring clarity to the debate and a step closer to resolution.
While the proceedings will be private, it is believed a decision will be known in a matter of weeks, though whether that will bring about any swifter conclusion is unclear.
RugbyWA are believed to be arguing that under the current agreement with the ARU they are legally entitled to a Super Rugby spot until the end of the broadcast deal in 2020, with the national body of the belief that the new competition means an entirely new broadcast agreement.
The ARU is believed to be committed to accepting any arbitration decision, with a lengthy legal battle only adding to the already mounting cost of the long-running uncertainty.
The Force, though, has signalled its intention to appeal in the case of a loss, an aspiration with the financial backing of Western Australian mining billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest.
Over the weekend, Forrest called for a Brumbies takeover of the Rebels, with an element of maintaining a talent pathway in Melbourne that leads to the Brumbies.
The Western Force welcomed Forrest's pledge to finance their Own The Force campaign, and even offer interest-free loans to members keen to donate but without the means to buy shares, with repayments to be made to RugbyWA, not Forrest.
RugbyWA chairman Tony Howarth said the move would be invaluable at all levels.
"Andrew's idea of promoting community participation by doubling the benefit for the cause will have a wonderful impact on both the professional game but more importantly provide funds for RugbyWA to support the growth of grass roots rugby in Western Australia at the community level ranging from our under 6s through to junior and schoolboy rugby, women’s rugby and clubs both in Perth and regional areas, " he said in a statement.
“We are looking forward to sitting down with Andrew to work through the implementation of the proposal.”
Last week, ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said the governing body was still dedicated to heading into 2018 with a four-team model.
Both he and chairman Cameron Clyne have come under public pressure since the April 10 announcement that one of the Force or the Rebels would be cut from Super Rugby in 2018.