The Melbourne Rebels are safe - for now - with negotiations for a sale deal between owner Andrew Cox and the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) off the table.
The ARU remain intent on axing the Rebels or the Western Force with the Super Rugby competition due to be downsized next year to 15 teams, but plans for the national organisation to buy the licence, held by Cox and his Imperium Group, and then terminate the franchise are no longer an possible after the Rebels issued a statement on Friday night saying they wouldn't engage in negotiations with the ARU in "relation to the sale or cancellation of its Super Rugby licence".
The Melbourne franchise repeated their call for the ARU to publicly confirm it legally had no right to remove them from the Super Rugby competition.
"The Melbourne Rebels wish to reiterate its clear legal position that the ARU has no legal right to 'cut' them as a team in the Super Rugby competition," the Rebels said in the statement. The ARU must come out and publicly put an end to the speculation. For the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, neither the Melbourne Rebels nor its owners will engage with the ARU in relation to the sale or cancellation of its Super Rugby licence."
The offer was reportedly around $6 million, although the ARU has been under pressure from the Victorian Rugby Union (VRU), Victorian government and Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA) to withdraw it.
The boards of the VRU and RUPA, which include Test captain Stephen Moore, this week voted to force the ARU board into a special general meeting.
A date is yet to be set for this meeting, as well as time for an "informal discussion" about the Super Rugby saga between all parties within the coming week.
Cox's future with the Rebels remains uncertain, with former Wallabies captain Rocky Elsom still hoping to secure a deal to buy the franchise.
Elsom is part of a group of private investors who are interested in securing the future of the Rebels.
Cox denied this week that he had held negotiations with Elsom, but the ex-player says he has signed a confidentiality agreement that signals otherwise.
Elsom has checked out Melbourne's books and is believed to see plenty of upside in the franchise. He also doesn't want to see the Force fold, saying five Australian teams are not only viable but necessary for the success of Australian rugby.
"I'm under a confidentiality agreement so I'm limited in what I can say," Elsom said.
Should Cox sell the franchise to Elsom, he will have honoured his commitment to the Melbourne players and staff that he wouldn't sell for the club to be axed.