It seems just a distant memory now, the hazy days of 2003. A world cup and genuine thoughts that rugby here was going to be one of the big boys of Aussie sports. Fast forward to 2017 and you wonder just how it could go so wrong.
Anyone that still needs convincing of its steady demise only needs a trip to your local pub on a Friday or Saturday night to confirm its status on the sporting landscape.
The current fiasco is mind boggling in its ineptitude. Now we get, what is it – Super version 78? This time there’s a small catch. Due to the competition not quite taking over the world as was promised, we lose a team.
The South Africans lose two which, after they threatened world annihilation just a couple of years ago if the Kings weren’t included, seems odd? Apparently, it’s about money but does anyone believe the ARU after the dust has settled will have anything left for the grassroots when all the collateral damage has been added up?
We have debated endlessly how we got here, and I put my hand up straight away that I am firmly in the domestic league camp.
But put simply, what do we do now? Well, for lack of a better idea what about this: Super 16.
The ARU need to grow a set and go to SANZAAR and say, “Well guys, since this whole dog’s breakfast is partly your fault, Australia cannot afford the damage to the game here that cutting a team will bring. It is not an option.”
It seems this whole thing comes down to the ARU saving $4-5 million a year. We must find those savings from somewhere else, I just do not believe, as others have pointed out, that there are simply not other options in regards cost cutting.
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Maybe the players need to contribute as well – they are being overpaid for the level of support the game has in Australia – what about, say, a five per cent pay cut for the good of the game. The point is, we need to find other ways of saving that money.
How it works is the tricky bit. Well, we go with the proposed structure with one difference: Australia has six teams in its conference and we embrace it.
We name our conference, call it the Australian championship or something, and give it an identity. The casual fan does not understand Super Rugby; we need to give them something they can identify with.
We separate the two and our conference becomes our domestic league with our new friends Japan. We desperately need to create a level of interest to more than just a dwindling hardcore fan-base.
We embrace the Sunwolves rather than treating them like some sort of cancer that we must live with. If they are a success, so are we.
The draw. Well, this won’t be easy but the fact is we make it work. For too long, the draw in Super Rugby hinders the game here. The Australian conference may have to have an extra game in midweek or start a week earlier. Just make it work. I don’t believe that we cannot make it happen.
Yes the purists will whinge. But, as for the Super Rugby draw and integrity, they parted company a long time ago.
Ensure the draw assists each of the franchises to enable a better bottom line. We need to take advantage of public holidays like Easter, Anzac Day. In fact, why haven’t we maximised these dates already? Rugby constantly shoots itself in the foot here and then wonders why it is sore.
Apparently, the draw is done by a consulting company. Well, they do a rubbish job. We should do the draw. Just get two geeks and some software, lock them in a room and don’t let them out until it’s done. If it’s not good then send them back in. Just get a better schedule.
The ARU should mandate each franchisee takes one game to the bush each year, as we need to spread the game. I’m not talking about a pre-season game but a genuine Australian championship game. With only five teams we need a greater reach to potential fans.
The ARU should introduce a system to assist in creating a more even spread of talent across the franchises. It’s not an easy task, but it must start somewhere. A draft maybe?
Some other steps should also be taken:
• Set up an independent commission (include the Sunwolves) to help run and administer the Australian championship conference of Super Rugby.
• Prioritise the NRC, work on strengthening the links between Sydney and Brisbane and the NRC clubs, and link the Sunwolves to one of the NRC teams. Assist the Fijian team. Openly look at good ideas to help this comp. Who knows, one of the NRC teams may step up to Super status in the future.
• Prioritise private ownership. We need money, and all teams should have a level of private ownership to assist with that bottom line.
I’m sure there are other ideas than can help, but the prime objective is to create at least a perception of a competition more appealing to our domestic audience.
It is important to remember that we are still part of the Super rugby championship and inter-conference games will continue as normal, but we must maximise our content. Some compromise may be needed in regards to finals to keep the Kiwis from completely spitting the dummy, but they would do well to remember they have been the greatest beneficiaries from Super Rugby.
This won’t solve the immediate problem of Australia’s competitiveness (or lack thereof) in Super Rugby, but does anyone seriously think shrinking the game to niche status here is going to do that?
Looking forward to 2020, what do we do to get there in good shape? Limp our way to the new broadcast deal? That will end well.
Or maybe we go in with a vibrant conference and who knows what else.
Maybe the ARU could turn this around, but right now they are essentially in an untenable position, a dead man walking. How about they go into bat for the code here and save the fifth team. It may just soften that collateral damage and then they can lay their cards out on the table and be honest with the rugby community.
If sacrifices are needed, they should be made together, because the greatest savings will be made through growth.