Western Force have been handed an unlikely route back into Super Rugby after Rugby Australia announced a new domestic competition that will start next month.
Super Rugby has been suspended in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with travel restrictions making a league featuring teams from five nations unworkable.
Rugby Australia has stepped in to launch a home and away round robin series, beginning on April 3 and featuring its four Super Rugby franchises – the Brumbies, Rebels, Reds and Waratahs – and the Force.
Western Force have competed in Australia's National Rugby Championship since the Perth-based team had their Super Rugby license dissolved in acrimonious circumstances in 2017.
The inclusion of Western Force effectively heralds the end of the Sunwolves' involvement in Super Rugby, with SANZAAR having announced its intention to cut the Japanese franchise from 2021 after the Japanese Rugby Football Union withdrew funding.
Matches will be played behind closed doors in the new competition, for which a fixture list is yet to be finalised.
Rugby Australia expects South Africa and New Zealand to roll out similar domestic competitions, with decisions over how these might relate to Super Rugby and any potential finals series to be discussed in due course.
“Rugby Australia, the four Australian Super Rugby teams and RUPA [Rugby Union Players' Association] are united behind the continuation of Super Rugby in 2020 and have been intensively working towards a competition solution with our SANZAAR partners over the past six days," said Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle.
"There are still some elements to work through as a group, but we are extremely confident that we will deliver a meaningful product for the remainder of the season for fans and broadcasters.
“We have agreed on the principles of proceeding down the path of a domestic solution in Australia which will see our teams compete against each other in a round robin format from April through June, followed by a yet to be determined Finals Series format."