New Australian Rugby Union (ARU) boss Bill Pulver says Australia is lagging behind the world for funding in sevens rugby, which he sees as the growth area for the game.
Pulver also wants to revive a third-tier national rugby competition and believes it could fall to the responsibility of Super Rugby clubs.
Starting in the top job this week after replacing John O’Neill, Pulver was addressing a 1000-strong crowd at a Weary Dunlop lunch where the Melbourne Rebels squad was introduced.
With sevens to be played at the Olympics in Rio in 2016, Pulver said it was an area to be further embraced.
Currently, Australian sevens representatives can’t play Super Rugby, and Wallabies such as Melbourne’s James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale are unable to play sevens – something Pulver would like to see changed.
“I am convinced that sevens rugby is a big, big part of the future of the game,” said Pulver.
“It is going to be the best opportunity for us to diversify the rugby audience in Australia.
“The opportunities to expanding our geographies and our demographics is sevens.”
The Australian men’s sevens side has long been used as a development team and is ranked 10th in the world while the women’s team is No.2.
Pulver said rugby needed to dangle a sevens gold medal in front of school students to convince them to play the sport rather than AFL or rugby league.
Rugby Union Players’ Association boss Greg Harris has proposed a plan for a third-tier competition involving nine Australian universities, however Pulver was more enthusiastic about the Super teams taking ownership.
He said he’d like to see academies in NSW and Queensland, currently run by the ARU, returned to the states.
“It should be within the Super franchises themselves,” he said of the third-tier league.
“We have no direct pathway for players after school – they essentially disappear from high-quality competitive rugby until they make it for Super Rugby.
“There’s a good case for those academies back to states instead of being centralised and they become (a) source of players for third-tier competition.”
Pulver also addressed the shocking revelations this week of doping in sport that rugby has so far escaped.
He said the ARU set up an integrity unit in 2008, led by former detective and Wallabies team manager Phil Thompson, which meant the code was better prepared than its rivals.
But he said rugby still needed to be vigilant.
“While I’m delighted that rugby wasn’t front and centre in terms of the current review, it would be naive of us to think that it’s not an issue.”