Time to pull heads out of the sand and admit Australian rugby is dying

Ryan O'Connell Columnist

By Ryan O'Connell, Ryan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Early on in my time with The Roar, I was guilty of writing pieces that were ‘comment chasers’; pieces designed to do little else than generate debate.

    While stimulating healthy debate is a good thing, the articles in question weren’t fantastic, and the conversation that resulted – though lengthy and sometimes robust – lacked intelligence, objectivity and nuance.

    There was nothing healthy about the debate I started; it was simply ammunition for a code war, which is a surefire way to get people talking.

    Initiating a code war was a cheap trick that left me feeling a little dirty, and I didn’t really enjoy the practice. Whether it was ego or immaturity that was the cause, I’m still not sure, but I swore to myself that I would never do it again.

    Rest assured, therefore, that the following piece is not a provocative attack on rugby union, nor is it designed to annoy the rah-rah crowd into such hysteria that The Roar’s servers melt under the weight of comments.

    Rather, this is an honest opinion: I fear for the future of rugby union in this country.

    Some rugby fans will no doubt believe this to be a cheap shot from a rugby league writer. However, I love rugby and always have. I consider league and union equals in my heart.

    Most of my friends played grade footy, and Norths Rugby Club has been a major part of my life, to the point that I proudly wear my 2016 Shute Shield Premiership hat most weekends. In fact, my best friend probably won’t speak to me for a month after he reads this.

    So trust me when I say that I love rugby, this isn’t a cheap shot, and I’m not chasing comments from angry Roarers.

    However, rugby is in big trouble in this country, and I was persuaded to write this by the amount of rugby fans that have their heads stuck in the sand.

    There are a number of reasons why rugby isn’t trending in the right direction in Australia at present, and though they may hurt to read, they’re not sensationalistic claims.

    Starting with Super Rugby, and it doesn’t help the code that Australia’s franchises are struggling to bother the ‘win’ column at present. It seems the only time an Australian team does win, it’s because they’re playing an Australian team. The lack of elite-level depth is clearly evident when it’s stretched across five teams.

    There’s talk of Australia losing a Super Rugby club in the upcoming SANZAAR restructure of the competition, which is never a good look.

    You could even argue that we should lose two teams if you’re using ‘quality’ as a criterion.

    The addition of two new franchises – the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels – was meant to increase the number of quality players via more professional opportunities, as well as grow the game in new regions. I’m not sure either objective has been achieved.

    My mate Brett McKay won’t like me repeating this, but it’s true: with its conference system, even the Super Rugby competition itself is confusing. To the point of being of a deterrent to the casual fan. If you don’t really understand how it works, it’s hard to get ‘into’ it.

    Meanwhile, when it comes to internationals, no matter how impressive the Wallabies play against other countries, the vast majority of the nation still judges them against the all mighty All Blacks, and little else. So, considering Australia’s appalling record versus New Zealand over the last decade, the team is considered second-rate by many, and therefore not worthy of their eyeballs.

    New Zealands Richie McCaw walks past Australias David Pocock

    Success always brings back some promiscuous fans, yet winning may not even be enough to overcome rugby’s harshest reality. Specifically, that the game is perceived as boring.

    Such an assessment is obviously subjective, after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Rugby advocates will claim there is little wrong with the game itself; just the way it’s currently being played in Australia. Truly loyal fans probably won’t even admit that.

    However, ‘rusted on’ fans are not what drive a game’s growth, for they will always be there. What does ensure a game is headed in the right direction is the recruiting of new fans, or converting back some lapsed ones.

    Given the product Australian rugby is presently serving up, recruitment and conversion is a tough sell. Whether you deride the sport as boring, or simply acknowledge the lack of talent is having an impact on the quality of play, the fact remains that rugby union is currently an inferior product to its competitors.

    The key word to analyse in that sentence is ‘currently’. All sports experience some lows, so are we simply witnessing the ebb to the flow in Australian rugby, and the game will bounce back again soon?

    Sadly, that is extremely optimistic.

    There are few signs that this downward trend will abate soon. Which begs the question, what is the future for rugby?

    It’s not going anywhere internationally. It remains the number one game in New Zealand, is a large part of the fabric of South Africa, goes from strength-to-strength in Europe, and it’s growing in other parts of the world.

    Yet in Australia, the news may be a little starker.

    Romain Poite Bledisloe Cup Rugby Championship 2016

    Given the success of rugby elsewhere around the globe, World Rugby is under no pressure to make rule changes to make the game more attractive simply to suit the Australian market.

    However, those other markets don’t have to contend with AFL, and rugby league is not a large threat. Yet in Australia, both those codes are behemoths compared to union. That means that young talent, sponsorships, TV deals, new regions, and fans, are all fought over, with rugby losing the fight.

    The AFL is even making serious inroads into that most sacred of rugby union strongholds: the Sydney GPS system. It was once almost the exclusive nursery of rugby’s future, but now it’s just another battleground for recruiting athletic youngsters.

    With the AFL and NRL’s war chests full – thanks largely to lucrative TV deals – and strategic plans in place to grow their respective games, they will continue to place immense pressure on the ARU, whose financial cupboard is bare.

    Kurtley Beales infamous slip while attempting to win the game for the Wallabies against the Lions

    So…

    The quality of play isn’t great. The results are poor. The crown jewel, the Super Rugby competition, is confusing. We’re probably going to lose a franchise. The average fan thinks the game is boring. Grassroots development is a major concern. Competitors – armed with money and plans – are encroaching. The ARU isn’t swimming in cash. There isn’t a revenue-spinning Lions tour or World Cup hosting on the horizon.

    I could on, and discuss things like the infighting and disconnect with clubs, but you get the picture.

    All in all, I’m struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I sincerely hope someone can tell me I’m being melodramatic, and give me cause to be more optimistic.

    My genuine fear is that Australian rugby – as we know it – is on death’s door. Should that be the case, it’s a massive shame.

    Ryan O
    Ryan O'Connell

    Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.

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    The Crowd Says (414)

    • March 21st 2017 @ 6:10am
      Steve said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:10am | ! Report

      I think you have to make the distinction between pro rugby and amateur rugby. I grew up in a rugby family and I’m involved in my local club. We have more players now than ever before. I’ve never been to a Super Rugby match or a Wallabies test in my life. I doubt 10% of players and parents at my club would watch Super Rugby or the Wallabies tests.

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 7:27am
        Jeff dustby said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:27am | ! Report

        I reckon at least 50%

      • March 21st 2017 @ 7:29am
        DH said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:29am | ! Report

        Amateur rugby participation is down 7%. One club is not a decent enough sample to draw conclusions. It depends on lots of factors.

        You think 10% of rugby players would watch Wallabies tests??

        10% of the viewing population watches Wallabies tests, you’re saying most of them are non-rugby people?!?!

        • March 21st 2017 @ 7:30am
          DH said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:30am | ! Report

          Sorry, I should have said the proportion watching is greater in non-rugby circles than in rugby circles?

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 9:39am
        Who Needs Melon said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

        Whether the number is 10% or whatever, I think this is an extremely valid point: There is a major disconnect between the various levels of the game.

        I only really started watching rugby when one of my best friends made his way up the ladder from club to super rugby side and then Wallaby squad. How good it was to turn the TV on a Friday night and see my mate on it. And also go an watch him in person at club or super rugby level. I also used to love going to see Campo and other ‘stars’ turn out for Randwick.

        Forget whether the quality was better or worse: The structure used to be that some of the best guys in your high school got into senior ranks in a club. And that probably became your favourite club. And some of the best guys in your favourite club team also played super rugby. And that probably became your favourite super rugby team. And of course some of the best guys in the super rugby team made it into the wallabies.

        There was a continuity of support through each of the levels. Although we pay lip service to this concept, we don’t seem to have that any more for whatever reason. I read on here the other day that one of the things the Rebels did well when they first started was really try to get this connection but have backed away from it. Don’t know if that’s true but I suspect it is and symptomatic of real issues in the entire structure here in Oz.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 10:22am
          Chris said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:22am | ! Report

          Great post. I too had similar experiences where one of my mates in high school played for Wests and then NSW and onto the Wallabies. It was more tribal back then and whilst the current format might appeal to the casual fans, we are now seeing those casual fans be distracted by something else.

          And they used to play running Rugby…does that concept even exist anymore?

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2017 @ 10:35am
          Train Without A Station said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:35am | ! Report

          WNM I can’t agree with that at all.

          Otherwise NRL and AFL wouldn’t be popular as there is almost no connect between the professional levels and the lower levels beyond Jersey Flegg and SG Ball, which are replicated in Rugby with the Schoolboys level and Aus 20s competition.

          And as somebody that has played club rugby in Melbourne since 2012 I can’t see a huge difference in the connection over this time.

          I do remember a game I played in being played on Ch31 in 2013, but last year the Rebels put every game I played in on youtube and since 2013 the amounts of Rebels playing local has increased dramatically. Last season I remember playing against Ryan Cocker, Calum Retallick and Siliva Siliva. I’m sure there was others I cannot recall.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 11:49am
            kos1nsk1 said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:49am | ! Report

            Good post. I started falling out of love with rugby when League players starting parachuting into the Wallabies side after a token SR game to “get the turnstiles spinning” (quote Wendell Sailor).
            It was all downhill from there.

          • Roar Rookie

            March 21st 2017 @ 12:26pm
            Dave_S said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

            Agree TWAS, league and Aussie rules has plenty of support from people with no significant history with or special connection to the game.

            For eg I’m born and bred Qlder, grew up on league and later rugby. I took up interest in AFL purely because I moved to Melb in 1989 for a while, yet a year prior (in Bris) I had no interest and could have named a few current players at best.

            Quickly became an avid Saints fan, even tho they were a middle-lower table team and I knew none of the players (and few of the rules …)

            Similarly, plenty of Sydney and Brisbane AFL followers are first-generation fans.

        • Roar Rookie

          March 21st 2017 @ 1:01pm
          Russell Neville said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

          How can kids gets into Rugby when it’s not on free to air TV. I work at a GPS Brisbane school, rugby is huge here, but even in this rugby union haven with most boys coming from higher socio economic families only about 50% have pay TV. Super Rugby & all Rugby Championship games should be pumped on free to air into all parts of Australia (especially QLD & NSW). The ARU & SANZAR should never have agreed to the IRB (now World Rugby) scrapping of the ELVs. The amount of penalty goals increased dramatically when we went back to the old rules of full arm penalties for most ruck and scrum infringements. Who wants to see bloody penalty goals! A case in point is the recent Reds v Crusaders game, which ended in a penalty to the Crusaders for a Reds player going off his feet. I was at the ground and was thinking just before the penalty that it was difficult for the Reds to clean out as the Crusaders’ tacklers were not rolling away/releasing the tackled player and then a pilferer was coming over the top. It was like a sandwich. The referee was too lenient with both teams at the breakdown throughout the match, (despite the Reds ambitious tactic of keeping the ball in the forwards to try and close up shop instead of kicking it to the Shit-house) but the point is why should a game of rugby be decided on such an arbitrary penalty. In the mid 90s Rugby League was at war with itself, and Rugby Union was turning professional why didn’t the ARU step in and grab Free to Air, poach players, promote and take over? I am afraid the horse has already bolted.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 5:05pm
            matth said | March 21st 2017 @ 5:05pm | ! Report

            I wonder from your first paragraph whether Rugby went to pay TV and thought it wouldn’t be a problem as they thought their rich private school demographic would all have or buy pay TV? If so, it was a serious error.

            • March 21st 2017 @ 9:37pm
              Bee bee said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:37pm | ! Report

              Yep. Australian Rugby was killed by a Fox. No point waiting for eggs now. The chicken is dead.

              Thanks Rupert.

            • Roar Guru

              March 22nd 2017 @ 8:19am
              Train Without A Station said | March 22nd 2017 @ 8:19am | ! Report

              Doubtful.

              Rugby went to PayTV because they were the ones offering enough money to make the code professional and compete with Super League and the breakaway rebel comp to retain the talent.

            • March 22nd 2017 @ 10:32am
              kos1nsk1 said | March 22nd 2017 @ 10:32am | ! Report

              Yep – after paying the school fees the budget was blown!
              On a side note I laugh when the private “elite” schools get bagged for being some sort of “anchor” on the growth of rugby. If it wasn’t for those 20 or so schools rugby would have died in the 1920s never to return.
              It will be those same schools that keep a pilot light flickering with this current debacle.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 10:23pm
        Bored said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:23pm | ! Report

        You cannot have a pro rugby league and pro union in the one country Australia. And I reckon people made their choice in about 1908.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 6:14am
      Tyrone said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:14am | ! Report

      I actually think both rugby league and rugby union are in massive trouble in this country, there just seems to be so little enthusiasm about the sports at a grass roots level.

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 7:12am
        Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:12am | ! Report

        League too??

        • March 21st 2017 @ 8:07am
          In brief said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:07am | ! Report

          They recently had a conference looking at why league clubs are struggling in the bush. One of the top threats they identified was players switching to rugby union. I’ve seen this first hand.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 12:21pm
            soapit said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

            ive always thought oz rugby should adopt the slogan “its more fun to play than to watch” to get people on the field

            • Roar Rookie

              March 21st 2017 @ 12:28pm
              Dave_S said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

              How about “don’t worry, no-one understands all the rules and they’ll change again next year” 🙂

              • Roar Rookie

                March 21st 2017 @ 1:01pm
                piru said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

                AFL changes it’s rules far more often than Rugby does

              • Roar Rookie

                March 21st 2017 @ 1:48pm
                Dave_S said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

                piru we could argue the point all day but I can tell you it took me half a season to get a good understanding of AFL rules and yet as a regular long standing rugby fan I still struggle to spot half the alleged scrum and ruck infringements.

                I’m not here to bash rugby, I’ve been a fan for nearly 40 years, I’m telling you that from my pov rugby has a problem with complex and inconsistent rules, compared to other games, which may well be turning potential fans off.

              • March 21st 2017 @ 1:37pm
                spruce moose said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

                Yes, but AFL doesn’t have 45 different penalties for ruck infringements.

                People know what a penalty is straight away at an AFL game.

                Have you ever noticed at a rugby game, the referee blows his whistle, and then everyone has to look at the TV screen to see the description of the penalty? In that intervening period it’s deathly silent. Once the words come up, then you hear this audible “Ooh!”

              • Roar Rookie

                March 21st 2017 @ 2:04pm
                piru said | March 21st 2017 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

                Not arguing with you Dave, it can definitely be complicated, but i think that’s a beauty of the game, not a downfall.

                There are only a few important laws that really need to be understood, as an ex ref I find myself in the position of having to explain things often to newcomers (mostly Americans) this is how I describe the game:

                – The ball is always up for grabs.
                – You can’t play off your feet
                – In front of the last feet is offside

                That covers most of the general play penalties that come up.

              • Roar Rookie

                March 21st 2017 @ 2:33pm
                Dave_S said | March 21st 2017 @ 2:33pm | ! Report

                piru they are basic principles and are generally but not always applied in that way, there are exceptions to the extent that it becomes a bit like the old ‘i before e except after c’ rule.

                I’m happy with beauty in complexity too – I’m a jazz fan – but I know a lot of people who think jazz is just playing whatever notes you want really fast. Rugby can be jazz if it wants to, but it will remain niche in a market like this one.

              • March 21st 2017 @ 6:04pm
                Tuc Du Nard said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:04pm | ! Report

                I think rightly or wrongly rugby prides itself on the complexity of the rules. But it must be said, the speed of the game and constant decision making now is such that you have to be intelligent. This I reckon is a big point of difference in rugby to almost all other sports bar chess!

              • March 21st 2017 @ 7:18pm
                ClarkeG said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:18pm | ! Report

                Spruce – when I watch a rugby game virtually all the time I know what the penalty is for – there might be the odd occasion when watching on TV that I can’t tell – the referee might be out of shot for example. Occasionally the referees are a bit slack and don’t signal.

                It’s quite easy – you just watch the referees signals.

                When I see AFL on TV next I will pay particular attention to see if I know what the penalty is for. Not saying you are wrong – I’m just interested to know if you are right.

                Rugby spectators should not rely on commentators or tv captions to know what the penalties are for – they are often wrong.

              • March 21st 2017 @ 9:20pm
                Rob said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:20pm | ! Report

                I often think about how the various sports have developed and the choices that administrators make to the rules – and the flow on effects to the nature of the respective game – are instructive if understood.

                As Rugby has developed, the rules have prioritised one key thing – it is the most complete test of the player, most readily identifiable by the continuous contest for the ball at all times. The full array of skills are encouraged and there are roles that suit all skill sets. The key point here is – everything is biased to the best in-game experience for the player.

                As League has developed, the rules have prioritised one key thing – it is the most complete spectacle for the fan, the observer on the hill. The contest for the ball is diminished because this is messier and harder to understand as an observer. Larger space, higher speeds, greater impacts. The key point here is – everything is biased to the best in-game experience for the fan.

                You could explore a similar concept for NFL which has prioritised the strategic involvement of the coaches into the gameplay.

                All in all, three games that started from essentially the same place have developed into three very different cousins that all have something to offer.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 7:28am
        Jeff dustby said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:28am | ! Report

        Please explain? Lots of sports are small at grass roots

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2017 @ 8:48am
          Magnus M. Østergaard said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

          Its pretty blatantly obvious why all clubs & sports are beginning to struggle at grass roots in the bush. People are moving toward the being regional hubs, thus leaving small country towns short.

          • Roar Rookie

            March 21st 2017 @ 12:29pm
            Dave_S said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

            Yep FIFO has affected lots of small regional centres in this way.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 7:32am
        DH said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:32am | ! Report

        Which is why keeping all the franchise is so important to get support across the country.

        The clubs just need to be more competitive and interesting which means breaking from NZ and just having local, relevant match-ups that people can get into.

        Super Rugby is over, the Kiwis killed it by not letting any of their better players out into the broader talent pool. Now they’ll lose them all to Europe anyway as the European leagues keep growing and the Southern Hemisphere league collapses.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 9:13am
          stainlesssteve said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

          fantastic statement
          what about the Saffas killed it by letting all their players go to Europe?
          Certainly wasn’t the Aussies’ fault. Gitts both disappeared to Europe and came back again.
          No, the super comp was killed by its own success and the fullness of time.
          I find it hard to watch the Kiwi derbies, because they are too ferocious, and many injuries are suffered.

          • March 22nd 2017 @ 3:49am
            hopalong said | March 22nd 2017 @ 3:49am | ! Report

            Hi SS
            The question need to be asked as to why the Saffas went to play in Europe.
            Two answers spring to mind.

          • March 22nd 2017 @ 11:05am
            Bakkies said | March 22nd 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

            ‘what about the Saffas killed it by letting all their players go to Europe?’

            They didn’t let their players go to Europe. The players went by choice and majority were off contract.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 9:55am
          DanFan said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

          To be fair, NZ does in fact maintain the NRL by sending all its best players to Australia for that. How much more can a little country support its bigger neighbours sporting competitions?

          • March 21st 2017 @ 10:03am
            Republican said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:03am | ! Report

            ……….38% of the NRLs players are Kiwi, while this number is rising.
            This in a sport that is barley niche in NZ.
            There is also a significant decline in GR across the code here.
            Is there a correlation perhaps in this decline when you consider that NRL scouts are selecting NZ’ers above home grown options.
            This is a real concern for League here in my opinion, while Union has always relied on NZ for O2 in this country.

            • March 21st 2017 @ 11:41am
              clipper said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

              Good point, Republican.
              You can hide a decrease in GR participation for quite a number of years, but eventually it will catch up with you.

              • March 21st 2017 @ 1:27pm
                Rafun said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

            • March 21st 2017 @ 3:18pm
              woodart said | March 21st 2017 @ 3:18pm | ! Report

              league is slowly dying here in New Zealand, apart from warriors and auckland league it is going backwards and many league players are crossing over into rugby (three in hurricanes). aussie rules have played a few games at the caketin but the crowds have plummeted as the novelty wears off. soccer has seen there crowds drop as well. I used to follow league avidly ,but have become bored with the sameness of most games and the lack of contest for the ball, get sick of watching the same old run up ,fall over five times,then kick . it doesnt demand much of the spectator, perhaps thats its charm, you can tune out for large parts of the game…………..

              • March 21st 2017 @ 5:50pm
                Republican said | March 21st 2017 @ 5:50pm | ! Report

                ……..you dont get the impression it is dying from this side of the ditch given the number of Kiwis represented in the NRL………

            • March 21st 2017 @ 7:50pm
              Boomeranga said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:50pm | ! Report

              Where does 38% come from? The highest not-just-made-up number I’ve seen was 17% while NSW and Qld provided 80-odd percent.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 12:06pm
            Marto said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

            hahaha..NZ have 25 percent of their players in the NRL..Not many of them are anygood though.. Just making up the numbers…

            Warriors are rubbish as is the Kiwi rugby league team..

            • March 21st 2017 @ 1:27pm
              Rafun said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

              It’s hardly anything to be scoffed at considering the Kiwis have one team in the entire competition and yet the Warriors are one of the most well supported clubs in the competition even as mud as they are.
              Kiwis make up a huge number of players playing in the NRL and once expansion does happen there will inevitably be another NZ club. The NRL would be foolish to not add a second Kiwi team considering the ever increasing popularity of league in NZ.

            • March 21st 2017 @ 3:21pm
              woodart said | March 21st 2017 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

              warriors might be rubbish,but they are self supporting and dont need handouts to keep going, how many aus nrl clubs would fold if they werent continuely propped up????

            • March 21st 2017 @ 5:52pm
              Republican said | March 21st 2017 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

              ……mmmm, so how is it that they are ranked number one in the world in League then?

          • March 21st 2017 @ 12:09pm
            Paul said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

            No mate the best NZ rugby league players play form the Warriors.. Remind me what they have done in 22 years?? Nothing ..Grand final wins etc etc

            • March 21st 2017 @ 5:53pm
              Republican said | March 21st 2017 @ 5:53pm | ! Report

              ……..the Warriors clearly get the rejects while the Australian clubs get the cream.

            • March 21st 2017 @ 7:18pm
              Jacko said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:18pm | ! Report

              Paul thats incorrect. The test team last year that toured the UK had 4 Warriors in it. Thats 4 of 30

        • March 21st 2017 @ 10:19am
          Shaun said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

          disagree completely… it is the other way around. Australia and South Africa have weakened the competition by letting their players leave. Super rugby is as popular as ever in NZ (the local derbies are almost always, apart from Eden Park, 90% full) and the quality and excitement of the rugby is higher than a fair few international games.

          • Roar Guru

            March 21st 2017 @ 10:24am
            Train Without A Station said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:24am | ! Report

            NZ popularity is useless to sustaining Super Rugby though.

            • March 21st 2017 @ 12:29pm
              Jock Cornet said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

              Everything is rosy according to TWAS the ARU stooge. Keep everything the same don’t do anything the academies are working fine , the reds have won a game.

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2017 @ 12:33pm
                Train Without A Station said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

                Australian rugby doesn’t have an academies…

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2017 @ 12:35pm
                Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

                About as good as the Waratahs then, Jock! Only they’ve occasionally looked like they can play rugby, or want to play rugby, unlike the Tah boys.

                In all seriousness, TWAS I unfortunately think you’re living in a fantasy if you think that continuing the status quo will result in anything but a disaster. If we continue on the same path Australian Emperors of the East Roman Empire staying holed up their castles pretending they were still the emperors of Rome while everything they loved was slowly nibbled away, until it all came crushing down when the Ottoman came knocking on the door.

                The only question is, how can we salvage things? Losing an Aussie team probably isn’t the best answer, but the ARU should have taken steps over a decade ago to improve pathways, grassroots and, above all, coaching at all levels. We’re reaping what the ARU sowed.

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2017 @ 12:38pm
                Train Without A Station said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

                Who is advocating continuing the status quo?

                Being worse off financially will not help us get to a better position.

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2017 @ 12:47pm
                Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

                No, it won’t necessarily. But I think it is possible that having four teams will mean the talent is less thinly spread and we’ll do better. I accept you may well be right and more players will just move overseas. That being said, it is possible that in this case what is good for Super Rugby might be good for Australia, and making Super Rugby more watchable might grow the game in Aus, even if we lose a team.

                I think we dropped the ball, mainly. We were given two extra teams and the ARU didn’t invest enough in grassroots and in coaching to ensure the teams could compete. And now it seems that it is too late to do so, as the Kiwis want us to lose a team.

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2017 @ 12:52pm
                Train Without A Station said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

                Why will the talent be less thinly spread?

                The greatest competition for players is not internal. It’s external.

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2017 @ 12:57pm
                Fionn said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

                Because we produce enough players quickly enough – the issue is that they leave if they aren’t in the Wallabies 22.

                We actually produce them quickly enough, but they just leave when they’re overlooked by Cheika: e.g. Nic White.

              • March 21st 2017 @ 1:30pm
                Rafun said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

                I understand the lure of the Euro / Stirling however why do players seemingly not hang around longer in Australia as they do in New Zealand especially those who are on the cusp?

              • Roar Guru

                March 22nd 2017 @ 8:22am
                Train Without A Station said | March 22nd 2017 @ 8:22am | ! Report

                Rafun,

                It’s a 2 pronged answer.

                Firstly. Because they don’t. Victor Vito, Gareth Anscomb, Bundi Aki, Steve Luatua, Tom Taylor, Charles Piatau, James Lowe, etc. The list goes on.

                Secondly, for top players the NPC provides an extra up to $60k in salary. The NZRU subsidizes the NPC, as the TV Rights are about half the total salary expenditure.

                But with the increasing money in Europe more and more are going. And they will lose more from the NPC to 2nd tiers like the Championship and French D2.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 12:22pm
            Tigranes said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

            the local derbies are almost always, apart from Eden Park, 90% full

            When was the last time the Hurricanes got a full house

            Back in the early 2000s, the Canes would regularly draw over 30K to their games. These days, they would be lucky to get over 20,000, and ironically they are performing a lot better now than they were back then (to be fair they had a host of All Blacks in their team, but could never deliver)

        • Roar Rookie

          March 21st 2017 @ 10:37am
          Shane D said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

          DH – kiwi players can & do play for other franchises (you might want to see where the rebels & brumbies 10’s are from for example).

          • March 21st 2017 @ 12:26pm
            Paul said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

            wow wee ..Two kiwis?? Call the police.. Kerr Barlow is and Aussie ..hahahahaha

            • Roar Rookie

              March 21st 2017 @ 12:38pm
              Shane D said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

              That was an example Paul. Grow up a little bit if you want to actually add to a discussion.

              • March 21st 2017 @ 7:21pm
                Jacko said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:21pm | ! Report

                Again wrong Paul. Kerr-Barlow was born in Aus but has never been an Aussie as those born in Aus after 1987 were not allowed to become Aus citizens until they turned 18 or their parents became Aussies. Kerr-barlow lived in Aus until he was young

            • March 21st 2017 @ 1:31pm
              Rafun said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

              Kerr Barlow whilst born in Australia has always classed himself as Maori

              • March 21st 2017 @ 1:51pm
                Paul said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

                Kerr- Barlow is Aussie… Born Aussie..haha …Therefore is Aussie..Sorry mate born in Aussie with MAORI heritage. Next !!

              • Roar Rookie

                March 21st 2017 @ 1:57pm
                Shane D said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

                Correct Paul. Wonder why he decided to leave Australia & his parents to move to NZ when he was 13. Maybe it was because he saw himself as a New Zealander & wanted to be developed by the best & give himself the best opportunity to maximise his talent.

              • Roar Rookie

                March 21st 2017 @ 2:00pm
                Shane D said | March 21st 2017 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

                Care to explain Mike Harris, Quade Cooper, Christian Lealiifano, Will Skelton etc etc?

              • March 21st 2017 @ 2:03pm
                Whakaata said | March 21st 2017 @ 2:03pm | ! Report

                Exactly that Rafun, Kerr Barlow has NEVER considered himself Australian.

              • March 21st 2017 @ 3:57pm
                hawksburn said | March 21st 2017 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

                You do realise he’d still be a Maori even if he wore a Wallaby jumper?

              • March 21st 2017 @ 7:23pm
                Jacko said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:23pm | ! Report

                PAUL please look at the laws of YOUR OWN country. After 1987, being born in Aus never gave you Aus citizenship…Wrong again Paul

              • March 21st 2017 @ 7:46pm
                ClarkeG said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:46pm | ! Report

                for Paul – Calum Retallick, Tamati Ellison, Nic Mayhew, Jason Woodward, Angus Ta’avao

              • March 21st 2017 @ 8:50pm
                Boomeranga said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:50pm | ! Report

                Jacko – I think you might be wrong:

                “A child born in Australia on or after 20 August 1986 who did not acquire Australian citizenship at birth automatically acquires it on their 10th birthday if they have been residing in Australia since their birth. This provision operates regardless of the parents’ immigration or citizenship status.”

                https://www.border.gov.au/about/corporate/information/fact-sheets/17nz

                Kerr Barlow would have acquired citizenship before he left.

              • March 22nd 2017 @ 1:56pm
                Paul said | March 22nd 2017 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

                What`s his birth certificate say mate?? Come on … hahaha

        • March 21st 2017 @ 7:24pm
          ClarkeG said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:24pm | ! Report

          Yupp – it’s all NZs fault. – Yupp

          Heck – why wouldn’t it be.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 8:29am
        Sophie said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:29am | ! Report

        Tyrone, I couldn’t disagree more. Rugby Union at a grass roots level is flourishing. There are lots of kids (boys and girls) keen to get involved. The clubs are run very well and they have money in the kitty to spend on advertising etc. The kids get free tickets to Waratah’s and Wallabies games. I say this as a mum of 2 young boys, one who plays RU and one who plays AFL so I’ve experienced both local clubs and to be honest, our local, the Manly Roos, is run so well and they create a great sense of community.

        Ryan, unfortunately, you’re bang on. It’s a sad state of affairs for ARU. There is definitely more money and resources for AFL clubs… Of course it’s just all about money. Sadly, the fact it’s an ‘international game’ isn’t enough anymore.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 10:05am
          Republican said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:05am | ! Report

          ……where is it flourishing Sophie?
          Not in the ACT thats for sure……..
          Soccer and Australian Footy are the grass roots movers and shakers here.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 10:56am
            Sydneysider said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

            “our local, the Manly Roos”

            Republican, looks like Sophie is from the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Along with the north shore and eastern suburbs of Sydney, they are the strongholds of rugby in Australia.

            • Roar Rookie

              March 21st 2017 @ 2:06pm
              piru said | March 21st 2017 @ 2:06pm | ! Report

              Junior and community rugby is going great guns in WA too

        • March 21st 2017 @ 1:40pm
          spruce moose said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

          But Sophie, you’ve identified two problems

          1. The game is strong in heartland areas, and will be so for a while. North Shore Sydney is rugby to the core.
          2. Free tickets to Waratahs games are a problem. The other sports don’t need to resort to free tickets. Secondly, judging by the crowd sizes, people aren’t actually using the free tickets either!

          • March 21st 2017 @ 4:41pm
            PJ said | March 21st 2017 @ 4:41pm | ! Report

            Have to pull you up moose, i worked at an NRL club here in south east Queensland and they would routinely give free tickets away even then the crowds would struggle to reach 5000 despite what the reported crowd was.

            • March 21st 2017 @ 10:12pm
              spruce moose said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:12pm | ! Report

              worked at a club in SE Queensland?

              It wasn’t the crushers was it? If anything, you’ve made my argument even stronger.

              • March 22nd 2017 @ 1:06pm
                PJ said | March 22nd 2017 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

                no mate it was the Titans, and it was 3 years ago

      • March 21st 2017 @ 12:39pm
        Swanny said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

        Soccer is grabbing most of the juniors these days in comparison to rugby and league

        • March 21st 2017 @ 1:32pm
          Rafun said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

          Football is also the most popular sport in New Zealand by a country mile.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 1:53pm
            DOUBLES said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

            Fairyball?? Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah

        • Roar Pro

          March 21st 2017 @ 1:54pm
          Andy Thompson said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

          Soccer always has. More kids play soccer than both rugby codes combined.

          • March 22nd 2017 @ 1:59pm
            DOUBLES said | March 22nd 2017 @ 1:59pm | ! Report

            Yeah more kids played fairyball when i was a kid too .. They wise up after 12…..Next

            • March 22nd 2017 @ 2:13pm
              Mathew Stealer said | March 22nd 2017 @ 2:13pm | ! Report

              Doubles you sound like a real winner! I think you will find once they hit 12 Football (fairyball) participation increases to atleast 3:1 as Football to the 3 other codes..

    • March 21st 2017 @ 6:22am
      John said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:22am | ! Report

      Ryan, to add to the strength of rugby outside Australia, it is now an Olympic sport, has established a successful and popular world Sevens tour, and is the fastest growing sport in the US.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 6:50am
        AGO74 said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:50am | ! Report

        Handball, taekwondo and bmx bike riding are also Olympic sports. It’s good to have your sport as An Olympic sport but its not exactly that big a thing. 20 or 30 years ago the ilynpics were a lot more prestigious and relevant but these days with the world of sport at your finger tips the prestige of the ilynpics is lost somewhat. As far as rugby goes I would class it in the some way as other Olympic sports like football in that a gold medal in the olympics isn’t even the pinnacle of that sport – the Webb Ellis trophy is a lot bigger in importance than a 7’s gold medal.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 7:29am
        Jeff dustby said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:29am | ! Report

        Haha that old fastest growing sports stat
        Archery is in the olympics too
        You totally overestimate the popularity of sevens

        • March 21st 2017 @ 7:34am
          DH said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:34am | ! Report

          T20 hasn’t stopped the death of test cricket. Empty stands in India for the tests.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 8:10am
            concerned supporter said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

            DH, Rubbish,
            There was a healthy crowd at Ranchi on Day 5 of the Third Test.Also Days 1-4.
            The cricket was slow, the pitch was a dustbowl, the Indian crowd was so animated that they were cheering every single the Indian batsmen made.Maybe if Puja & Co had scored their runs at a quicker rate, the Indians may have won.

            • March 21st 2017 @ 8:40am
              DH said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:40am | ! Report

              It’s been the same slow spinning wickets since before T20, they used to pack the stands to the rafters every day regardless of the game situation.

              • March 21st 2017 @ 8:53am
                concerned supporter said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:53am | ! Report

                DH,
                Test Cricket is dead you say.Do you have your tickets for the upcoming Ashes Tour?

              • March 21st 2017 @ 7:26pm
                Jacko said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:26pm | ! Report

                No Ive heard that Aus cricket will doctor the pitches to be fast bowler friendly

        • March 21st 2017 @ 9:36am
          rock said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

          “Haha that old fastest growing sports stat”

          I don’t understand how it’s funny when it actually true that Rugby is the fastest growing team sport in the US, being fed by the system where there is no further outlet to play American Footy if your not good enough after High School or College.

          Fact is, as a game globally Rugby is doing well – participation numbers are higher then ever and are continuing to grow, sevens is assisting in this. Locally however, it’s a different story.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 6:27am
      Lesterlike said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:27am | ! Report

      I thought i was probably lost to Rugby Union after years in Australia. I grew up with the game, played it as a kid and just completely lost interest after growing bored

      This year I started following European Rugby and realised how much I still love the game. The problem is the whole convoluted mess that SANZAR expects me to consume stinks to high heaven and will never hold my interest. Domestic Rugby is what keeps fans gripped every week and internationals should be an important change in pace but not the main stay.

      Whether the European Club game is higher quality or not is a pointless argument for me, it’s still more entertaining and engaging on a week to week basis than the SH season. The stadiums are full, the atmosphere is booming with proper local rivalries representing local communities rather than huge areas, top players come from all over the world which keeps things fresh, every game means something with both European Qualification, title races or Relegation on the line and the season actually goes on long enough for narratives to write themselves.

      Instead Australia has an International season that goes on for half the year and a boring national selection trial for the other half. I don’t care if Super Rugby is supposed to develop players for International Rugby, that’s a terrible foundation for getting people to actually care about it and it’s possibly the reason why many are not being convinced to watch it.

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 8:57am
        Kaks said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

        Couldnt agree more Lester.

        I have not watched a full 80mins of Super Rugby in two, maybe three years.

        But European rugby? That’s a different story. It is enthralling and entertaining.

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2017 @ 10:00am
          Joey Johns said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report

          I know this is a little off topic, but I think it depends entirely on who you watch.

          England and the other home unions have seen a significant push by their domestic clubs to play more expansively. The Pro12 and Aviva teams aren’t that far off, if not in front of many in the Top 14 which has really regressed as far as standards go.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 10:17am
          Lesterlike said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

          Not to mention the league format is exactly the same as European Soccers which, beautiful in its simplicity, makes it easy to follow compared to the dogs breakfast that is Sanzar.

          • Roar Guru

            March 21st 2017 @ 10:31am
            Magnus M. Østergaard said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

            I guess the difference is that the local leagues build up into a SANZAAR combination.

            Each 6N country has their own comp, which then build into a provincial championship if I am correct?

            • Roar Guru

              March 21st 2017 @ 10:56am
              Joey Johns said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

              Almost. England and France have their own comps, with promotion/relegation to boot.

              Ireland, Wales, Italy & Scotland all have teams in the Pro12.

            • March 21st 2017 @ 11:17am
              Lesterlike said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:17am | ! Report

              Europe doesn’t have provincial championships, even if the PRO 12 might resemble it, it’s still effectively a club system. Clubs participate in BOTH domestic leagues and a continental championship that is played simultaneously.

              IMO this consistency is far better than SANZARS mess of players potentially turning up for a different Club, NRC Region and SR Franchise all in the one season. Fans actually get a team they can follow for the whole year.

              • March 21st 2017 @ 11:48am
                Bakkies said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:48am | ! Report

                The PRL clubs still represent catchments where they are involved with development. The actual league system in England is not that old.

                The County Championship still exists and is part of the pathway. In the amateur era there were regional selections that played touring sides. Some of those games are up on YouTube

                ‘if not in front of many in the Top 14 which has really regressed as far as standards go.’

                Depends on which clubs you are watching. La Rochelle and Clermont in particular are very good to watch. La Rochelle this season has done what a lot of French clubs (even the top ones) struggle to do, win away from home. This has opened up a 8 point gap at the top of the log. No one predicted that at the start of the season.

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 5:47pm
          Nico'larse said | March 22nd 2017 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

          Your loss Kaks…because you have missed some truly brilliant games in that period.
          Administratively, the game is a mess alright. But there is nothing boring about the way the Kiwi sides play.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 10:51am
        Rt said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:51am | ! Report

        Lesser you’re spot on. I love the tahs and living in qld follow the reds as well but I got far more joy watching norths win the Shute shield and the Australian club championship than out of any recent super rugby game.

        Super rugby franchises are now just clubs not rep teams like they used to be.

        The other great thing about the Aviva premiership is saturday and Sunday afternoon games. Those games are at that time for the spectators not to fit into a TV schedule.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 5:20pm
        Cynical Play said | March 21st 2017 @ 5:20pm | ! Report

        Excellent perspective.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 6:31am
      AnD said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:31am | ! Report

      The AFL no doubt is eating away at rugby and league. There’s a perception that it’s safer than the other codes among some parents and their media machine is very good at (falsely) portraying their athletes as more upstanding individuals.
      But rugby isn’t dead yet. It definitely left its run late by only turning professional in 96 but the game is still a great one for kids and the average amateur.
      Downsizing may seem bad but a consolidation of talent is exactly what’s needed. The game competes in very congested markets elsewhere and it can survive here.
      I would like to see a focus on good rugby and not on earning revenue. Super Rugby should have involvement of the Pacific Islands. The champions league format is starting to seem more and more attractive.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 6:49am
      Hangman said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:49am | ! Report

      I suggest we dump the Reds and the Force and make a good NZ franchise the fourth Australian franchise…Lets say the Chiefs – then every young schoolboy would aspire to be a rugby legend playing for the best team on the planet and emulate their heroes… the Mighty Chiefs….

      • March 21st 2017 @ 10:53am
        Rt said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:53am | ! Report

        More cowbell?

        • Roar Rookie

          March 21st 2017 @ 12:37pm
          piru said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

          less drugs

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