2011: A Rugby year in review, by John O’Neill
- Rugby Union news
- Rugby World Cup 2011 news
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- Exclusive: CEOs of Australian sports write for The Roar news
The Roar exclusive: John O’Neill, ARU Managing Director and CEO, reflects on the 2011 rugby year that was, including an explanation on why the current economic models for the Rugby World Cup is unsustainable:
“The Tri Nations title was claimed for the first time in 10 years.
An Australian team won the Super Rugby crown for the first time since 2004.
Broadcast numbers were at record levels for both Super Rugby and the Wallabies’ international program.
Crowd averages were also up and our three Super Rugby teams involved in direct one team-one town competition with NRL rivals – the Red, Brumbies and Rebels – all won the battle of the turnstiles by drawing higher per game attendances.
The Wallabies finished the season with a winning strike rate touching on 70%.
They sit at No.2 in the world rankings – the same position in which they started the year – and in head to head showdowns with South Africa and New Zealand have an impressive strike rate of recent times.
The Wallabies have beaten New Zealand at two of their last four contests.
Even more impressively, the Wallabies have defeated the Springboks in six of the last seven matches played between the two countries.
In any ordinary year, the above would suggest an outstandingly successful season.
In a Rugby World Cup year, the progression the game has made on and off the field needs to be tempered by the reality that our primary goal – winning an unprecedented third Rugby World Cup title – went unfulfilled.
As an organisation, from the administration to the team, we were disappointed the campaign in New Zealand came up short.
There is no shame in losing to the host nation in the semi finals, nor can it be denied the All Blacks dominated the world rankings for four years and deserved due recognition for their ongoing excellence.
However, the depth of disappointment for Australian Rugby in part reflects the advancements the Wallabies have made since the quarter final exit at the Rugby World Cup in 2007.
There were high hopes and expectations on the squad that travelled to New Zealand.
It was an anticipation fuelled by what had occurred in the previous 12 months.
The All Blacks had been conquered in Hong Kong in October of 2010, and again in Brisbane during the Rugby World Cup countdown – a win that secured the Tri Nations championship.
The emergence of a young, exciting and fearless group of players further heightened the general levels of confidence.
It was indisputable that on their day this Wallabies team could beat, and had beaten, any and every top flight team in the world.
The Wallabies went to New Zealand with the youngest squad at the event, average age just 23 years and 8 months.
Beaten by New Zealand at the semi finals stage, after an epic win over South Africa in the quarter finals, the Wallabies eventually took out the Bronze Medal match with a victory over Wales.
Was the 2011 Rugby World Cup just a touch too early for them? It is fair to debate.
There was no lack of talent. The All Blacks and Springboks had been beaten in the preceding months, and beaten more than once.
The issue remained consistency of performance – a factor synonymous with young teams maturing.
However, there is also no denying that the potential for improvement from the current squad is enormous.
As they garner further experience, the hopes and expectations that were present leading into the Rugby World Cup will only increase.
They have the capacity to be the best team in the world.
Australia has unearthed some of the most gifted talents in the game; the kind of players who thrill and are developing household name status.
Players who can continue to build on the gains the game made in profile and popularity in a Rugby World Cup year.
Those gains came in many and varied forms, some of which I have already referenced.
From a broadcast perspective we landed an audience of 3.23 million for the Rugby World Cup semi final against the All Blacks.
To put that in perspective, the corresponding match at the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia – the semi final between the Wallabies and All Blacks – secured a TV audience of 2.4 million, some 800,000 less.
However, the final in 2003 was watched by more than 4 million Australians.
The prospect of outstripping that magical figure in 2011 disappeared when the All Blacks rather than the Wallabies won the Eden Park semi final.
It is also important to note that the crescendo from a public interest viewpoint in October did not come out of the blue.
From the outset of the Australian Rugby season there had been innovation and excitement to harness greater support for the code.
The Melbourne Rebels were launched on the Super Rugby stage, delivering international Rugby to Victoria for the first time – via a local vehicle – and at frequency levels never before experienced.
There was positivity too around the new competition format, where the Conference system and therefore more local derbies were introduced as a fifth Australian team came on line.
It would also be remiss not to make mention of the contribution the Queensland Reds made to Australian Rugby in 2011 as a result of their Super Rugby success.
Their style of play, laced with panache, brilliance and, on occasions, outlandish execution of skill, made them a “not to miss” experience,
Crowds to Suncorp Stadium were climbing in excess of 30,000 and the final delivered 50,000.
The television audiences watching them, across the country, were also substantially up on previous seasons.
It was a Reds-led revival for Rugby at the front end of 2011 and the Wallabies continued to build momentum through their Tri Nations success.
The ultimate aim for the season was a Rugby World Cup final win and that did not eventuate. However, the gains made in 2011 were significant and cannot be ignored.
Nor can the financial impact the Rugby World Cup imposed on Australian Rugby.
The scheduling of the event and the forced inventory cuts we had to make from a Test match perspective – down from six or seven top tier domestic internationals to two plus a match with Samoa – hit ARU hard.
It left us with a $16 million revenue hole.
Add to this the $2.4 million it cost us to prepare, outfit and pay the Wallabies during their Rugby World Cup participation.
All up it is an unavoidable financial hit to the ARU of some $18.5 million. It underscores why the current economic model for the Rugby World Cup is unsustainable. Changes must be made. We cannot bleed like this again.
ARU has worked hard at ensuring any deficit for 2011 will be well below the levels of financial sacrifice made to play at the Rugby World Cup.
However, the same scenario cannot be allowed to play itself out in 2015.”
This article appears as part of a 2011 / 2012 Australian Sports CEO series, exclusive to The Roar.
In this series, John O’Neill (Australian Rugby Union), James Sutherland (Cricket Australia), David Gallop (NRL), Andrew Demetriou (AFL), and Ben Buckley (FFA) all share with The Roar their thoughts on the year that was, or will be, for their respective codes. Read the full series.
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