MEXTED: Australian rugby needs better development system

Murray Mexted Roar Rookie

By Murray Mexted,

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    The depth of Australian rugby deserves analysis. It has been obvious to me for many years that Australian rugby lacks a provincial competition, which is another step in the ladder between Club and Super Rugby.

    So often we see Australian franchises introducing players direct from club rugby who haven’t played anywhere near the tempo or the skill level required to succeed at this level.

    There has been general consensus the Australian concept is good because it develops young players quickly. And on this, I agree.

    It also has its casualties, and sometimes those casualties end up being the coach.

    In New Zealand, we have two arms of development: the traditional NZRU competition structure and National Team development squads. And we also have IRANZ, which is seen as a stepping stone for players wanting to play professionally.

    In other words, if you don’t make the small number of players taken in by the provincial academies around New Zealand, there is a second option to up-skill.

    This has proved successful when we look at the results after 10 years of operation.

    In the world’s most organized and developed rugby structure, we still find that an independent arm (IRANZ) now provides one third of all New Zealand’s provincial players. There is no doubt a structure similar to IRANZ is needed in Australia and I am surprised it hasn’t been established.

    We have had a number of propositions which have gone nowhere.

    A couple of weeks ago, I asked the question of whether Australia could expect to compete on a global basis with their talent pool split across three codes. This certainly stimulated a response about code-comparisons.

    And fair enough.

    Really my intention was to ask the question of whether Australia had enough players to be able to do this and still expect to succeed in the international arena.

    It is interesting to note that in Australia, there is approximately the same number of registered senior players as there are in New Zealand, but they are not privy to the same development opportunities for both players and coaches alike.

    This lack of real depth in Australian rugby won’t make the Wallabies any less competitive at national level, where the difference between the top players of both New Zealand and Australia is very little.

    The victor on the international stage is more often the team with the best coaching combination and, on that note, beware of South Africa.

    They have always had the player strength at international level, and now, for the first time, the Republic has four very competitive Super teams.

    But the coaching and selection challenge remains their greatest impediment.

    Roar columnist and former All Black great, Murray Mexted, is the Managing Director of The International Rugby Academy (IRANZ), the leading global Rugby Academy. IRANZ offer an independent high performance pathway for coaches, players and teams worldwide. More details here.

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    The Crowd Says (106)

    • April 13th 2012 @ 6:28am
      kingplaymaker said | April 13th 2012 @ 6:28am | ! Report

      The national competition could be 10 team: Waratahs, Reds, Brumbies, Force, Rebels PLUS
      Sydney 1, Sydney 2, Newcastle, Gold Coast, Adelaide.

      Halve each of the current extended 40 man squads and you have a base of 20 for each team.

      Or just do the same but make those second five Super rugby teams 🙂

      Any way will be good though as with those 10 every base is covered. Each of the 8 biggest cities in Australia has a team, every large state, every 1.5 million of population in a heartland area has a team, all major new markets are covered. So easy!!

      • April 13th 2012 @ 6:45am
        Moaman said | April 13th 2012 @ 6:45am | ! Report

        Interestingly KPM Auckland has aprox.1,5 million inhabiitants; It’s one of the main reasons the Blues are receiving so much scathing comment–they have the biggest catchment in the country and most pundits feel they should be producing accordingly.That they are not,points to a systems-failure.Bear that it mind when you draw up your blueprint……muhahaha muhaaaaahaha 😉

        • April 13th 2012 @ 7:01am
          kingplaymaker said | April 13th 2012 @ 7:01am | ! Report

          Moaman I think in fact that the problems with the Blues and Waratahs are very similar: decadence resulting from having such a luxury of players and the biggest catchment area in each respective country.

          Because of this they appoint bad coaches, assume that their playing stocks will take care of anything, and do little to maximise the discovery of talent within their playing areas.

          The solution to this of course is competition. If the Blues were forced to compete against Counties Manukau and North Harbour teams they would have to become a highly efficent, ruthless professional outfit in order to survive and compete and develop talent. In the same way if the Waratahs had to compete against two other Sydney teams they would have to appoint good coaches, develop available talent to the maximum, and so forth.

          So the solution to these problems is one more and ideally two more teams in each city 🙂 !!!!!!!!!!

          • April 13th 2012 @ 7:07am
            mania said | April 13th 2012 @ 7:07am | ! Report

            so basically KPM your solution comes back to having more teams at the top end of the rugby prymid? blues problems isnt a case of not having enough talent. its that talent not performing. u state having competition within the franchise is the answer? blues already have competition holding onto its players from the other franchises. having another southAuckland team isnt the answer and would just spread the talent thinner, as the force and rebels have done in aus.
            the answer to the blues getting off the bottom isnt to have more teams. the answer is fix whats wrong with it without throwing away money on another team and thinning the player depth.
            NZ has had 5 teams since the inception of super rugby. this model was well thought out and works. blues woes are recent. the NZ super model is 15 years old. the mdel isnt the problem, its the blues.

            • April 13th 2012 @ 7:42am
              kingplaymaker said | April 13th 2012 @ 7:42am | ! Report

              mania firstly there is enough talent in Auckland for more than one team: the place is overflowing with talent. Secondly with more teams the players currently going to league would start to be recruited and the pool would enlarge.

              The problem with the Blues’ performance goes back to the entire decadent culture of the organisation. Put it in competition and it would have to shape up as well as develop yet more talent. More teams competing over talent would also make sure every inch of talent was developed to the maximum which doubtless isn’t the case at the moment.

              • April 13th 2012 @ 7:47am
                mania said | April 13th 2012 @ 7:47am | ! Report

                KPM – before we get into this again i would just like to say that even though i think your wrong most of the time its good to have a well thought out argument with you. its from the chaos of our discussions that new ideas are born.
                NZ doesnt have a league problem. Nz has the player depth but shouldnt put in another team. blues issues are recent and has nothing to do with the NZ super model. blues issues are isolated and not an accurate indication of how the rest of the franchises and rugby in NZ is doing. thats as short n sweet as i can make it

              • April 13th 2012 @ 7:50am
                kingplaymaker said | April 13th 2012 @ 7:50am | ! Report

                mania that’s how ideas develop, through being whipped, threshed, added to, expanded, rejected, elaborated, otherwise they would just stay at first base 🙂

                It will be interesting to see what becomes of Taranaki’s radical proposal, if anything.

              • April 13th 2012 @ 7:52am
                mania said | April 13th 2012 @ 7:52am | ! Report

                kpm – i’m against the taranaki bid. i know they’ll do great but one fo the other franchises wuld suffer

              • April 13th 2012 @ 8:24am
                kingplaymaker said | April 13th 2012 @ 8:24am | ! Report

                I think there are more players in NZ who don’t make the current teams who are just as good, NZers abroad who could be brought back, all the NZ league players who could be brought over, and even some greater allowance for imports to further strengthen things. All these might make more strong teams. We shall see though, or not as the csae may be!

              • April 13th 2012 @ 8:36am
                mania said | April 13th 2012 @ 8:36am | ! Report

                KPM – the best players play for the AB’s. the kiwi’s abroad could come back but it would take them at least 2 seasons to get back to the level of fitness that SR plays at (eg, Matfield, Elsom, lukeMcAlistair). those players that arent currently on contract arent ‘just as good’ otherwise they would’ve gotten a contract already. ‘all the NZ league players who could be brought over’ doubt theres many valid rugby players in the warriors, those that can play rugby would be playing it already.

              • April 13th 2012 @ 10:24am
                kingplaymaker said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:24am | ! Report

                mania obviously it would take a while for the returning players to get back to speed. It’s not a short term fix.

                I don’t think the league players would be playing rugby anyway. They simply get snapped up by league first because there is only one team competing in Auckland. If there were more, then a greater number of places could be offered to these young players.

              • April 13th 2012 @ 10:28am
                mania said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:28am | ! Report

                nah KPM, your thinking that auckland talent stays in auckland which is seldom the case

              • April 13th 2012 @ 10:42am
                kingplaymaker said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:42am | ! Report

                mania of course not all do, but certainly the NRL is able to snap up a lot of youngsters. With a club in the heart of South Auckland this would no longer be the case.

          • April 14th 2012 @ 7:05am
            Bakkies said | April 14th 2012 @ 7:05am | ! Report

            Blues have actually won titles. The Tahs remind me of where Leinster were 6 years ago. Nearly men with a talent loaded side, had some faults, revolving door of coaches, accused of being D4 centric (Dublin’s version of the eastern suburbs). They fixed it by hiring coaches with a backbone and not afraid to tell it as it is. Increased their fan base province wide, increased membership sales and sell out their stadiums every week

            • April 16th 2012 @ 5:56am
              Damo said | April 16th 2012 @ 5:56am | ! Report

              Thank you Bakkies! Especially for the bit ‘increased their fan base province-wide’
              Brilliant! The Irish experiment worked. Now all we have to do is wrest control off the east-centric Tah Czars.
              A quiet revolution still beckons.

      • April 13th 2012 @ 10:38am
        stillmatic1 said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        kpm, can you please show me any competition in the world that has more than 10 teams that can compete for a championship? lets start in the u.s.a. nba, nope, nowhere near 10 teams can realistically compete for the title, nfl, nope, baseball, nope. football in europe, nope, just the usual suspects there. fact is, population clearly has very little to do with it, otherwise every New York team would win, or L.A team would win in baseball/basketball/nfl. is money the over riding factor? again, in the U.S, it obviously helps but still then the like of L.A and N.Y would clean all before them.

        the above examples are based on countries/continents that have 15-20 times the amount of people to choose from and yet does in no way guarentee success. if there are 20 out of 30 or so teams in the major sports in the U.S.A that struggle to achieve success then what of 4 major codes in a country of 20 million?

        allowing for the cyclical nature of sport just as in life, we in general see the usual suspects at or near the top of each of the 4 codes of football in this country and yet you think that having a few more teams will unearth all this supposed potential!! how many nrl/afl clubs are actually financially viable in australia? to grow the game of rugby in oz, you need to fix the product from the grassroots up, not from the top down.

        will the likes of GWS/GCS/rebels be strong in the future because they buy top line players, or because they develop a grassroots development pathway? but again, this may take generations to unfold as i have mentioned already that a majority of sporting clubs in australia/nz and even the world continue to struggle with being viable businesses.

        when the rebels, charlotte bobcats, detroit lions or cronulla start winning championships then the expansion that you ask for can be validated. there are plenty of teams in all sports around the globe that are 1 team towns, and yet still dont win, so are they run as a “decadent” organisation? or is there simply not enough supreme athletes/players around?

        • April 13th 2012 @ 10:48am
          kingplaymaker said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:48am | ! Report

          stillmatic1 the number of teams doesn’t matter at all, it’s the SPREAD of talent that determines how competitive the teams are. In England until the recent raising of the salary cap they had 12 roughly competitive teams, which is why they keep it despite the problems it leads to when they compete with the no salary cap Heineken Cup.

          So in the first place you keep the talent even through a salary cap or even a partial draft, and in the long-term the teams produce their own talent but you STILL keep it evenly spread through a salary cap.

          • April 13th 2012 @ 11:39am
            stillmatic1 said | April 13th 2012 @ 11:39am | ! Report

            at this stage i fail to see how this utopian spread of talent will manifest itself, as it hasnt in any sport on the planet. creating more teams just spreads the AVAILABLE talent around, doesnt necessarily create more talent to choose from. if it did create more talent to choose from then the likes of the charlotte bobcats would be better than they are. but when almost half the teams of any given competition in the world (with or without a salary cap or draft) fail to genuinely compete on a long term scale, then does this not show that the myth of creating new entities fails to bring results in terms of performance and talent acquisition?

            i think the reason sport is so popular as a spectator endeavour is simply because most of the populace dont actually have to play it!! there will always be thousands of michael jordans out there, thousands of potential jonah lomus out there, but they will never have their talents realised just like the rest of us. for every person that we recognise as having immense potential there probably is myriad others out there that we will miss. this will be the case no matter how many teams we create.

            further to this, who says that there will be enough base supporters in these new centres to actually sustain long term viability anyway? you simply cant force feed the population of adelaide a game they dont care or identify with, and trying to do that by setting up a top flight team with no grassroots following is simply poor business practise.

            • April 13th 2012 @ 11:48am
              kingplaymaker said | April 13th 2012 @ 11:48am | ! Report

              stillmatic in England it has…

              it creates talent by spreading the game to new areas and stopping the player rugby loses to league going there, as 1 team can’t offer as many contracts as 9….

              These are all large areas of 1 million plus mostly with strong rugby traditions so supporters won’t be a problem.

              All quite straightforward actually.

              • April 14th 2012 @ 11:53am
                stillmatic1 said | April 14th 2012 @ 11:53am | ! Report

                and which championship are you mentioning? aviva, with an average crowd of about 11 thousand? and the usual suspect winning consistently!?

                not to mention that all but 2 teams are running operating losses in the aviva premiership!! hats off to leicester and northhampton, but what about the rest? simply generating revenue by having 1 or 2 big crowds obviously isnt helping the long term viability of these clubs, and at some point, the debts will be called in. who bails them out, KPM?

                fact is, the talent/support is simply not there on a sustainable, long term level and infact hasnt shown itself in england at all. how can you claim that the game is spread to a new area and then say they are large areas with strong rugby traditions? cant be new if it has a strong rugby tradition, now can it. and which are these million plus population centres that you speak of?

                a clubs viability is not simply based on gate takings, it helps of course, but when 2 out of 12 clubs are running at a loss, this is simply poor business.

                so in reality KPM, your assertion that new talent has been created is simply not right. not in results on the field or off it.

              • April 15th 2012 @ 1:12am
                Ben S said | April 15th 2012 @ 1:12am | ! Report

                ‘and the usual suspect winning consistently!?’

                Saracens and Exeter?

      • April 13th 2012 @ 5:02pm
        Ryan said | April 13th 2012 @ 5:02pm | ! Report

        Sydney 1 and 2 in the KPM model should become Western Sydney and Central Coast. Both are no brainers.

        • April 14th 2012 @ 7:09am
          Bakkies said | April 14th 2012 @ 7:09am | ! Report

          Don’t you mean money drainers.

    • April 13th 2012 @ 6:29am
      mania said | April 13th 2012 @ 6:29am | ! Report

      needs to go back further than IRANZ murray. waste of time having an IRANZ and an Academy when attendence would only be a couple of players. needs to go back to age and nursery grades. thats where u start and then hopefully something like IRANZ can be setup

    • April 13th 2012 @ 7:00am
      p.Tah said | April 13th 2012 @ 7:00am | ! Report

      ‘In other words, if you don’t make the small number of players taken in by the provincial academies around New Zealand, there is a second option to up-skill.’ we don’t even have an academy at each province anymore. It’s centralised.

    • April 13th 2012 @ 8:40am
      sheek said | April 13th 2012 @ 8:40am | ! Report


      You have articulated the problems of Australian rugby particularly well.

      Firstly, the player participation numbers aren’t significantly different. Yet the standard of skills for the average Kiwi rugby player is in excess of his Aussie counterpart. This then is the interesting part.

      While the gap might be narrower at the top, it is still significant. The ABs beat us on average these days 8 or 9 times out of every 10. And for every SR success one of our provinces enjoys, the Kiwis seem to enjoy about 5.

      But the gap widens below this. It must come back to the poor training of our coaches, both volunteer/amateur & professional. This plus poor domestic structures. And selection has always been a historical problem. The old NSW-Qld rivalry has, at least on the sub-conscious level, been responsible for some odd selections over a century.

      It’s also crazy for example, that secondary schools rugby can’t be streamlined because organisations like GPS & CAS see themselves operating independently of Australian rugby requirements.

      Clearly, there is a lack of competition for places as players progress, certainly unlike that evident in NZ. This is also realised at the national level, whereby players sometimes might be content with just winning a gold jersey rather than working hard to keep it.

      At the national level, another problem is evident. When a “golden” Wallabies side disbands, it can take more than a decade sometimes for another “golden” team to appear. Compare this with NZ & SA, whereby bad years rarely last more than 2 or 3 at the most.

    • April 13th 2012 @ 8:50am
      Davo said | April 13th 2012 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      Murray I dont think you realise that Rugby is not our national sport like it is in NZ. It is quite a minor sport in this country and is probably between our 4th and 7th most favorite sport. All our top athletes play in the AFL and NRL if you have not noticed.

      Still I think we do rather well considering the status of Rugby in this country. Correct me if I am wrong but arent we ranked 2nd in the world with 2 world cups.

    • April 13th 2012 @ 9:01am
      Justin said | April 13th 2012 @ 9:01am | ! Report

      Murray you have given us the NZ system but do you know how the AUS system works? If so can you please give us a run down?

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