Just over 21 years ago, amidst rugby’s first few steps into the professional era, the Australian Rugby Union commissioned a new top-tier side, residing in the nation’s capital city, to take part in the Southern Hemisphere’s new-look Super 12 competition.
The Brumbies, as they were named, were a reward for the achievements of the ACT’s hardworking clubs and a natural expansion at a provincial level.
The Brumbies’ meteoric rise in the competition saw them become Australia’s most successful Super Rugby team of the professional era. The ACT side won two premierships, built epic and storied rivalries with the Crusaders and Waratahs, defeat the British and Irish Lions, and unearthed so much talent that if I were to list all of it here this piece would practically turn into an honour roll.
To have been a Brumbies fan over that period – through periods of triumph and grief – there really has been nothing like it.
But I did not write this piece to be a eulogy, so let’s get down to brass tacks.
This week, reports emerged that the ARU would agree to dump an Australian team from the Super rugby competition, apparently at the behest of SANZAAR partners.
It made an unpalatable kind of sense that the Force or the Rebels might be facing the axe. It is a sad fact that since their inceptions, both have struggled to keep pace with the competition – especially that from overseas.
That SANZAAR partners might want to hound the Force or the Rebels out of the competition for being uncompetitive seemed within the realms of possibility. I nevertheless felt disappointed that the ARU has apparently folded to pressure over the issue.
I do not support cutting any of the Australian sides. Evidence may suggest Australia does not have the depth to sustain five teams, but if performance is the issue, there are other teams that should go first – including the one whose boss’ comments set this whole firestorm ablaze in the first place.
What has become clear, however, is that this whole debacle is not about performance. Not on-field performance, anyway.
Perhaps fittingly it was on Wednesday – on the Ides of March, no less – that it was revealed the ARU may be intending to stick their knives into the Brumbies.
I had naively assumed that Super Rugby clubs would live and die on their merits. I had not reckoned with the ARU’s commitment to a moribund strategy of expansion that is already a proven failure.
I felt sick. I still feel sick. It’s not confirmed yet, but if the Brumbies axing does go ahead (and it increasingly seems that’s the way things are heading), it would be the most unexpected gut blow in my 20 years following the sport.
More than that, it’d be a betrayal.
Leaving aside for the moment all the good the Brumbies have done for Australian rugby over the years, it is dumbfounding that the ARU would fail to stand up for its clubs. I mean, for what? For the sake of appeasing the selfish conditions of SANZAAR partners?
I wonder what the great rugby patron His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove would think of the ARU deciding that parts of Australia just aren’t worth fighting for. Do white flags start to look like green and gold ones when somebody’s waggled enough cash in front of your face?
Push back! For god’s sake, show some backbone. If the abolishment of your country’s most fertile development ground is the condition of Super Rugby’s continuity, then maybe some questions ought to be asked about Australia’s future in the competition.
Because one thing I have no doubt about is that both Super Rugby and Australian rugby will be weaker without the Brumbies.