SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Melbourne Rebels, one of two Australian Super Rugby clubs threatened with the axe, said on Tuesday they had signed former England lock Geoff Parling for next season.
The 33-year-old second row helped Exeter to their first English Premiership title last month and played 29 tests for his country up to the end of the 2015 Rugby World Cup as well as three tests for the British and Irish Lions in 2013.
His signing is the first for the Rebels since a moratorium on signing new players, imposed as the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) pondered which of their five teams to cull from Super Rugby, was lifted last week.
The ARU has agreed to cut either the Rebels or the Western Force from the competition for next season as Super Rugby contracts from 18 to 15 teams. South Africa will lose two teams.
The signing of a high profile foreign player in Parling is likely to be seen as a statement of intent by the Rebels, whose owner has said he will not sell the licence if it means the team will be shut down.
The Rebels this week also announced the appointment of a new chief executive and made it clear it was planning to be in business next year "after a difficult season which has been impacted by the instability caused by the ARUs decision to state that it was reducing the number of Australian Super Rugby teams to four".
Parling, whose grunt in the pack will be welcomed by a team that has managed just one win from 13 matches this season, said he was looking forward to the challenge.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to test myself in the southern hemisphere that Super Rugby brings," Parling said in a news release. "Hopefully I can add value to the Rebels, and help the team continue the great growth and profile of rugby in Victoria."
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Frank Pingue