Rugby needs to address the grassroots

Luke Jones Roar Rookie

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    I’m a long-time Roar fan, first-time contributor, however this subject really needs to be addressed and posted to Bill Pulver’s Mosman address!

    The confirmation that one Super Rugby team will get cut from 2018 onwards is a great shame to the growth of the game in Australia. Even though I don’t agree with the decision, I fully understand that the results from both the Rebels and the Force just haven’t been satisfactory, and a tough decision needed to be made.

    However what I can’t understand is how the ARU can honestly give an answer into how Aussie rugby has reached this point that we can’t even sustain five teams?

    Currently the AFL have 18 teams, the NRL 16, A-League 10 – hell, even the NBL can sustain eight teams. The argument posed by some pundits is that rugby in Australia simply doesn’t have the players or resources to support five teams. This is true as shown in the results of Australian teams over the past couple of years in Super Rugby, and the Australian U20s having not reached a final since 2010.

    However what needs to be addressed is why Australian rugby cannot sustain five teams when every other sporting code in the country can support such a higher number of sides? The major issue that is preventing the code from growing in Australia and of its current position in the sporting landscape is the current and continuing demise of addressing the grassroots, across a local, state and national level.

    CEO of Australian Rugby Union Bill Pulver, and Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika

    The ARU is currently adhering to a top down sporting administration method, where it is providing the majority of funding and attention to the Super Rugby sides and the Wallabies to ensure that they achieve success.

    This strategy is due to the fact that Australia has an extremely competitive sporting market, and success is essential to achieving popularity and support across fans, sponsorship and stakeholders.

    Furthermore the ARU has a much smaller budget than that compared to the NRL and AFL and needs to be smart about distributing its budget. However this strategy can only work if the Super Rugby teams are successful. As shown over the past few seasons with a reduction in sponsorship money, attendances and the results of the super teams, a rapid alteration of the ARU expenditures need to be made.

    The ARU needs to look at why other codes in the country are more successful and are able to support many more teams. The main issue in my opinion is that rugby has basically ignored the grassroots throughout the country, with the strategy of hoping the local clubs can organise themselves while the ARU supports the state and national team.

    Rugby especially needs to open itself up to more of the market in offering it as a sporting option to school kids in public schools. The majority of kids in Australia attend public schools and this is an area of huge potential growth in the game, and it can eliminate the stigma that rugby is only played by rich private school kids.

    The Wallabies have a proud history of public school players including the Ella Brothers, Steve Price etc. and really need to increase participation levels by directing funding to developing a state and national schoolboy competition. This is one of the reasons for success of the All Blacks, as rugby is viewed as egalitarian in New Zealand as its offered to the whole country to players from all races, gender and socio-economic backgrounds, and its played at a very high standard in both public and private schools.

    Furthermore the ARU needs to make the radical decision of cutting the NRC, which does have its benefits and the aim to develop players from club to state level.

    However as shown in the attendances and TV viewers there is a much higher interest in local club rugby which has over 120 years of history and rivalry. Crowds at Manly home games constantly sell out and attract 8-10 thousand, and the atmosphere is much more intense than any NRC game across the country.

    Easts vs Randwick. Photo via

    A nationwide club rugby comp, like the NPC, with clubs from Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne should replace the NRC as it will serve two purposes. It will reduce the costs of funding separate provincial competitions around the country, and money can be re-directed to help fund the ailing Shute Shield and other national provincial clubs.

    Clubs in Sydney have been operating on a shoe string budget since the inception of professionalism, where Parramatta and Penrith have nearly been placed into receivership and Eastwood was forced to sell its own home ground in order to secure its financial future.

    By incorporating a bottom-up administration model, as used by the NRL and AFL, by taking care of the games grassroots providing higher funding at a local level, whether it be in junior rugby, across public schools, developing more country rugby clubs, providing more school clinics from Wallabies, increasing players development officers to Western Sydney, rugby can increase its player numbers and support to sustain five teams in Super Rugby.

    There are more than enough players in the Australian sporting market to sustain five teams, the ARU just needs to incorporate a new strategy to address these issues. If the grassroots are going to be continued to be ignored, and with the continual growth and expansion of rival codes, we could be back to the Super 12 in the near future.

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