Will Twiggy’s IPRC step on the toes of the NRC?

Brett McKay Columnist

By , Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    Another day, another Andrew Forrest press conference, it seems, and yesterday we finally welcomed some actual detail about the mining magnate’s grand plans to… well, make Australian rugby great again.

    In confirming his Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship – which I was happy to run with ‘IndoPac’ as a label, but will now cede to the proper ‘IPRC’ acronym – will kick off in mid-August next year, Forrest answered one of the bigger questions floating around about his proposed competition: that no, it won’t compete with Super Rugby.

    But an August 13, 2018 start date for the IPRC is a curious one, as it means the new competition will overlap – and almost certainly compete for players with – Australia’s National Rugby Championship, in which Perth Spirit will continue playing in next season, and which Forrest himself has pledged to become the new naming rights sponsor of with ‘immediate effect’, if the ARU will allow Australian Super Rugby player to bolster the IPRC playing stocks while also maintaining Wallabies eligibility!

    Still following?

    The ARU, to their credit has said they will continue “collaborative discussions with Andrew Forrest and his Minderoo team” over the coming weeks, a clear sign that more than a few bridges have been extinguished and rebuilt in recent days.

    On the surface, this feels like good news for the game locally, that one of the country’s richest people is wanting to invest in the game at a whole new level and with the stated goal of luring players back home, and with a pledge to “go toe-to-toe” with cashed-up clubs in Europe and Japan.

    I still can’t quite get my head around the bit where Forrest would become the naming rights sponsor of the NRC while at the same time actively luring the best NRC players over to the IPRC to be run at the same time, but perhaps that will become clearer in time, too.

    If we’ve gone from what felt like a bloodless rugby coup last week to now not only wanting to work with the ARU but actively engage and assist the governing body do something it has only been able to dream of doing in recent years, then I’m sure a small little quibble like a pretty obvious conflict of priorities will be cleared up soon enough.

    Banks the bolter another tick for the NRC development pathways
    Injured Wallabies winger Dane Haylett-Petty didn’t have a replacement named at first, when the squad for the Argentina Test in Canberra was named last Sunday, but by Monday morning’s first training session, it was hard to miss the smile on Brumbies and Canberra Vikings fullback Tom Banks’ face, as he got around on the training track in a fresh, new Wallabies kit.

    The time last year, Banks was already starting to stand out (again) for Queensland Country in the NRC, and would finish 2016 as one of the leading players in the competition and an easy selection in the NRC Team of the Year. He jumped at the chance to sign a Super Rugby contract with the Brumbies, hoped when he first arrived that he might sneak a game or two from the bench.

    By season’s end, such was Banks’ impact in taking an opportunity in the absence of injured fullback Aidan Toua and subsequently making the No.15 jersey his own, Toua headed for Japan. Banks has been brilliant for the Vikings again for the first two weeks of the competition, and it’s a not at all undeserved national call-up.

    Whether he plays or not is another story of course, and he would certainly be a very different player to Haylett-Petty in that hybrid 14/15 role that ‘DHP’ plays. But with a tour to South Africa and Argentina around the corner, Banks is certainly in the right place at the right time, as far as winning a tour ticket goes.

    It will be interesting to see if the similarly recalled lock Lukhan Tui can force his way into the touring squad, too, or whether Kane Douglas can do enough this week in a Brisbane City side rumoured to be including Quade Cooper and Nick Frisby, too. Regardless, it’s all another nod to the NRC doing its job.

    Welcome home, Drua
    The first match of NRC Round 3 might be the most anticipated match of the season to date; the crowds supporting the Fijians in Brisbane and Melbourne over the opening rounds have been truly wonderful, but you have the feeling that both those crowds will pale in comparison to the reception the Fijian Drua will receive at their first ever NRC match on home soil.

    They were always going to be a wonderful addition to the competition, and it hasn’t take long for their on-field form to match the off-field expectations. Make no mistake, this Drua team are chock-full of talent, and after not being so sure initially if they could give the finals a shake, I now think they definitely can.

    Realistically, if they win three of their four home games, and sneak one more win in Australia to lift them to five wins from eight games, they’ll finish in the top four. And on current form, it would be absolutely deserved.

    Perth vs Greater Sydney also shapes as one of the games of the season, with the Spirit a tough team to beat in front of the McGillivray Oval hill, and the Rams winning their first two games in pretty convincing style.

    NRC ladder
    Greater Sydney Rams 9, Canberra Vikings 8, Fijian Drua 5, Queensland Country 5; Perth Spirit 5, Brisbane City 4; Sydney Rays 0, NSW Country Eagles 0, Melbourne Rising 0.

    Round 3
    SATURDAY
    1pm: Fiji v NSW Country; Lawaqa Park, Sigatoka, Fiji – LIVE on Fox Sports 501
    3pm: Sydney v Melbourne; Pittwater Rugby Park, Sydney – Live streamed

    SUNDAY
    1pm: Brisbane City v Canberra; University of Queensland, Brisbane – Live streamed
    1pm AWST/3pm AEST: Perth v Greater Sydney; McGillivray Oval, Perth – LIVE on Fox Sports 501

    Queensland Country have the bye.

    Tips
    Erred with Brisbane City and Melbourne last week, and immediately regretted not picking Queensland Country when I saw their team named. This week, I’ll have Fiji and the Rays on Saturday, Canberra and Perth – on suspicion they’ll recall the cavalry – on Sunday.

    Enjoy your NRC rugby this weekend.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.