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 @ 9:03am
      Gary Russell-Sharam said | April 13th 2012 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      I agree with Tarzan (Mexted) that Aussie rugby needs a second tier below Super Rugby. The ARC was prematurely cancelled in my mind before it was given a chance to succeed. JON came to power and immediately canned it. JON idea of growing rugby is from the top down not from the bottom up. I have long lamented on this site that if you don’t make it as a schoolboy to 1st XV and then on to the (now defunct state academies) for whatever reason (mostly because of the different stages of maturity that player reach their potential) you are faced with the obscurity of club rugby. I know that some make it, however there is a hell of a lot that don’t ever get the opportunity to show their wares. The ARC was the perfect stage to show off the rising talent within Aussie Rugby. I always maintained that with a bit of tinkering around the edges we could have had a viable second tier competition operating up the eastern seaboard at least. I thought that the original setting up of the teams wasn’t too far off the mark. Yes it cost the ARU a fair bit to start with but if it had continued I’m sure more corporate dollars would have been forthcoming. The budgets that were floated in the first place suggested that that was the aim. Even in the first year with, IMO, slightly higher wages and costs that should have been paid the costs were not exorbitant. I do know right across the board there were a lot of budding young players extremely disillusioned with Rugby after the abandonment of the ARC. IMO, looking at an overview of the Wallabies and the Super Rugby franchise performances in recent times there is ample examples of the lack of a second tier competition. A second tier would add the depth that a lot of posters go on about and it would also bring young players up to speed to make an easier transition to the top level. I have an opinion that the lack of a second tier comp is one of the major factors why our Super franchises are not doing so well and I also think it relates to our (IMO) not so good performance at the recent WC. I know the Reds last year won the super title but you could say there were mitigating circumstances that allowed a bit of a dream run for them (I take nothing away from their performance) the Crusaders had a very hard year coping with external problems. The Reds hardly had any injuries. And some of the opposition teams were not at the best that I have seen them in the past. All this being said the rest of the Aussie franchises seem to struggle and it seems this has carried on this year. It would seem to me there is some food for thought as to current form that my argument and Tarzan’s comments may have some substance.

      • April 13th 2012 @ 9:16am
        Justin said | April 13th 2012 @ 9:16am | ! Report

        Lets not re-write history Gary – “The Reds hardly had any injuries”. Thats completely false, they used 37 players due to injury.

        One factor why many players maybe struggling this year is the non existent off season due to the ARU being greedy and having the EOY tour to the UK. They had just played a WC and then toured purely for the coffers of the ARU. Some of the players are knackered.

      • Columnist

        April 13th 2012 @ 9:55am
        Brett McKay said | April 13th 2012 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        Gary, your thoughts on the ARC are in line with my own. I’ve long argued that while ’07 cost $5M, and ’08 was budgeted for $3M, we might’ve found that by 2011 or 2012 that it was largely self-sufficient. And my argument was/is that surely $10-12M over five or six seasons is actually a worthwhile investment, rather than “leaking money” as was/is often perceived and reported.

        My argument is that the ARU cannot afford NOT to make this kind of investment. And yet, that’s the direction they went…

        • April 13th 2012 @ 9:59am
          sheek said | April 13th 2012 @ 9:59am | ! Report

          Brett – Ditto…..

          The ARC was a brilliant concept. The problem, as we all know, or should know, is that the 2007 model was deeply flawed.

          1. The comp must have the leading players available. No comp can flourish without its best players on display. In 2007, the world cup squad was deemed ineligible to compete. This hurt the ARC enormously.

          2. It should be run semi-professionally. Leading Wallabies & SR players only get match payments, medical insurance & travel allowance, nothing more. Plus the other benefits of free gear, accommodation, travel & transfers.

          3. Play the comp mid-week so as not to directly oppose AFL & NRL on weekends. Also start by using smaller grounds – 15,000 to 30,000 capacity. Expand to larger venues as the comp gains traction.

          4. Make the teams relevant to their location. In 2007, you had northern Sydney players turning out for Central Coast & Eastern Sydney players playing out of North Sydney Oval. Two incredibly stupid decisions.

          • April 13th 2012 @ 10:14am
            Justin said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:14am | ! Report

            Sheek – not trying to be negative but the problem starts with your point 1. When is the comp going to be played? Test and Super players on on the job from Jan to Aug/September or so, then NH tours. They also must have at least 6 weeks off.

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

              Justin,

              Previously, the window appeared to be Sep-Oct.

              Previously, rugby had basically shgut down during Sep-Oct while the AFL & NRL finals series were hotting up. Rugby needed to have something go up against both AFL & NRL.

              The Sep-Oct window appears ideal since this is also when the Currie Cup (SA) & NPC (NZ) are also contested.

              An 8 team ARC would need 10 weeks, made up of 8 home & away games, plus a week of semis & a week for the final. A window of early/mid August to mid/late October is preferred. Apart from the finalists, all other players would have a 1-3 weeks break before the northern tour.

              Of course, every 4 years you would have the problem of a world cup usually contested in Sep-Oct, so I don’t know how you get around that.

              The ARC would also work better if my other suggestion of a truncated Heineken Cup style Super Rugby was accommodated.

              As you allude, the problem is one of leading players being asked to appear in too many comps, & playing far too many games.

              • April 13th 2012 @ 10:51am
                kingplaymaker said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:51am | ! Report

                Sheek I applaud your idea although I would push for 10 teams as then every base is covered and as the game grows (hopefully) it would grow in every major area. Plus more teams equals more opportunities in more locations.

                I think who replaces O’Neill will determine whether it will happen. It could be anyone. The irony is of course that O’Neill is the one person who could probably pull it off and do it under-budget. But as you said once long ago in an article he probably won’t risk it.

              • April 13th 2012 @ 11:24am
                Justin said | April 13th 2012 @ 11:24am | ! Report

                Sheek – The Wallabies will not be available from early to mid August through until the end of October effectively. SO no Wallabies would be playing in the ARC at that time.

              • April 13th 2012 @ 1:04pm
                sheek said | April 13th 2012 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

                Justin,

                If an ARC was ever revived, iIm assuming there might be a re-jigging of the season’s format to accommodate it. If the country’s leading 30-40 players can’t participate in an ARC, for whatever reasons, then there’s no point reseurrecting it, I’m afraid.

                Otherwise, have the provincial academies, or effectively, the 2nd XVs play each other.

                That’s assuming for example, SANZAR has no intention of truncating SR.

              • April 14th 2012 @ 3:35am
                AndyS said | April 14th 2012 @ 3:35am | ! Report

                Actually, I’m not sure I’d agree with that. If it was played with all the Wallabies present, it would be interesting for the fans but ultimately a little pointless – what is the motivation for half the players? During the ARC I mostly caught the Spirit matches and there was a noticeable stepchange at one specific point, which was when Cam Shepherd got called up to the WC squad. It suddenly seemed to dawn on the rest of them that, far from simply playing some sort of Club Rugby 2.0, they were actually one small step from being called up to the big show.

                For mine, any ARC equivalent should run in parallel with Test rugby. That is when there is a sudden dearth of professional matches to watch, as half the Tests aren’t even in Australia and, when they are, it is still only the one match. Better that there is a place for recovering players to get some match play without being rushed back, a pool of players eager to show what they have and raring to go hard at any opportunity, and at least a few games to watch and/or attend each weekend.Also, as above, it is obviously far more manageable from a player management point of view

            • April 13th 2012 @ 1:16pm
              bluerose said | April 13th 2012 @ 1:16pm | ! Report

              follow the Currie Cup format

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

              Actually I would have an A team comp running now if the ARC is not possible. It’s a joke that the Super Rugby A teams are playing a handful of one off fixtures rather than meaningful matches. Then they are forced in to club rugby which is an even lower level

              • April 14th 2012 @ 7:37am
                Ian Whitchurch said | April 14th 2012 @ 7:37am | ! Report

                Bakkies,

                The NEAFL is the model – a northern and an eastern division of club sides and the reserves of the Super teams, with most games in division and some cross-division.

                Play the Shute Shield and Hospital Cup finals between the two highest-ranking, non-reserves, sides in each conference.

                Its a disgrace that the AFL can set up a second tier competition in Queensland and NSW and rugby union cant.

              • April 14th 2012 @ 8:04am
                Bakkies said | April 14th 2012 @ 8:04am | ! Report

                they discussed that 20 years ago and the clubs opposed. Won’t happen now. There was a comp recently where the winners of the ACT, NSW and Qld comps played each other. NSW and Qld winners sent scratch side and Tuggers won by default

                ”Also start by using smaller grounds – 15,000 to 30,000 capacity”

                That’s what they did in the ARC and they cost a bomb to rent. Grounds like Concord should have been used

          • April 13th 2012 @ 12:11pm
            nickoldschool said | April 13th 2012 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

            Great on paper but i dont see how this could be a more viable option than the previous model. Mid-week games= attendances of a few thousands at best, hence not much income.

            Its also impossible to force wallabies or senior SR players to play for virtually nothing when they can have a stint overseas for 10 times more (Japan, medical joker in Top 14 etc) or rest.

        • April 13th 2012 @ 10:09am
          kingplaymaker said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:09am | ! Report

          Brett I fully agree with that and I would personally add that if these national competition teams had owners, or if even some of them had owners, the ARU might not even need to spend any money.

          Even if they did though as you say it would be a worthwhile investment. Probably the extra teams, quality, players etc…would lead to more money elsewhere anyway.

        • April 13th 2012 @ 10:26am
          Markus said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:26am | ! Report

          I disagree. Among the many failings of the ARC were:
          – Poorly timed: created when Aus only had 3 established Super teams, the Force still struggling to find their feet
          – Poorly co-ordinated: zero collaboration with the existing Sydney and Brisbane club comps. In fact the whole planning stage was almost a big middle finger to both
          – Poorly scheduled: many of the games clashed with key matches in the more established local comps. In Canberra, the last round game was scheduled at the same time as the ACTRU finals, on the opposite side of town
          – Poorly budgeted: The Vikings were the only team that did not run at a substantial loss (they made small profit), and the whole comp was already $2 million over budget within 4 months. I do not see any reason why the following season would have not had a similar blowout, given the exorbitant costs of sustaining entirely artificial teams like the Rebels and Rams.

          While a 3rd tier was/is definitely required, the ARC was not it, and throwing more money at a well-intentioned but terribly implemented tournament would have seen the ARU bankrupt by now.

          • Columnist

            April 13th 2012 @ 11:38am
            Brett McKay said | April 13th 2012 @ 11:38am | ! Report

            Markus, no question things could’ve been done better, but I would have been highly surprised if John O’Neill, a career banker, had allowed the second season to blow out like the first did. I’m quite certain that subsequent seasons would’ve been run a lot more efficiently than the first..

          • April 13th 2012 @ 2:08pm
            AndyS said | April 13th 2012 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

            Disagree on the first point – the Perth team also broke even or slightly better and had the best attendances. You’d’ve thought they might have taken a look at them and the Vikings and seen if there were some lessons could be learnt…

            • April 13th 2012 @ 10:54pm
              IronAwe said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:54pm | ! Report

              “you’d’ve” – Great word!

          • April 14th 2012 @ 7:21am
            Bakkies said | April 14th 2012 @ 7:21am | ! Report

            Two things I didn’t like about the Canberra team.

            1. It was the Canberra Vikings. Most ACT rugby supporters who aren’t involved with Tuggeranong despise them. Larkham preferred to play for Wests when he was available rather than running out for the Vikings in the Brisbane comp. The team had to be inclusive and bringing back the Kookaburras would have been a brilliant idea. They got bumper crowds before they were renamed Canberra Vikings.
            2. Even from the outside looking in the matches were poorly promoted.

            • April 14th 2012 @ 7:40am
              Ian Whitchurch said | April 14th 2012 @ 7:40am | ! Report

              Bakkies,

              If you’ve got that issue, you need two teams.

              You need the well-hated, stand-alone team, and you need the amalgamation of everyone else. You need the Tuggeranong Vikings, and you need Canberra.

              This way, you get a game every weekend, and you get two local derbies a year.

              An issue with rugby union is that it thinks of sides as rep sides. It doesnt have to be that way.

              • April 14th 2012 @ 8:09am
                Bakkies said | April 14th 2012 @ 8:09am | ! Report

                Canberra could only field one team and it has to be a team that represented everyone. The Kookaburras had a historically identity and could of been used

    • Columnist

      April 13th 2012 @ 9:07am
      Brett McKay said | April 13th 2012 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      “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.”

      Murray, on behalf of Australian rugby, I respectfully ask that you PLEASE keep chasing this rabbit!! What is obviously an opportunity for IRANZ is also an opportunity for rugby here. The penny HAS to drop eventually…

    • April 13th 2012 @ 9:53am
      Gary Russell-Sharam said | April 13th 2012 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      Justin while I appreciate what you are saying please look at the detail of my post and not take tiny exerts from my content to make a total point. If you look at what I said in detail the injury matter was only a part of the circumstances that I exposed. The Reds did use 37 players but didn’t have any long term serious injuries that had vital players missing for long periods. The one player they did miss was Harris at the end of the season. I agree with you there seems to be a lethargy from the players that toured at the end of last year, however IMO that is not the entire reason for the lack of form of the Aussie conferences I think it is more deep seated than that as I have said in my post.

      • April 13th 2012 @ 11:29am
        Justin said | April 13th 2012 @ 11:29am | ! Report

        Gary – there are numerous factors involved in the performance of the Super sides of which another tier is but one.

        Re the Reds, sorry for the quote but so often on here myths become facts all too easily.

    • April 13th 2012 @ 9:56am
      Albo said | April 13th 2012 @ 9:56am | ! Report

      I can’t help but feel as though the hyperbole surrounding the weak Australian conference is getting a little out of hand.

      It’s not like the Aussie teams have been the whipping boys of the competition. Apart from the Reds Bulls blowout and the forces late capitulation against the ‘Canes, it’s not like it’s been 50-0 scores every week.

      I’m enjoying having a few underdog Aussie teams to go for… How hard has tipping this year been? I have loved this years competition despite the Aussie teams not doing so well.

      I’ve gotta clean this soapbox.. getting a bit gritty underfoot.

      • April 13th 2012 @ 10:14am
        Spencer said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        Agree.

    • April 13th 2012 @ 10:05am
      reds fan said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:05am | ! Report

      If the ARU won’t do anything, perhaps we can convince the IRANZ to open its first international office?

      • April 16th 2012 @ 6:19pm
        Mex said | April 16th 2012 @ 6:19pm | ! Report

        IRANZ operates under licence in South Africa & is known as The Investec Academy or IRASA. Now into their forth year of operation under the leadership of Dick Muir. They too are starting to produce interesting figures.
        Mex

    • Roar Guru

      April 13th 2012 @ 10:16am
      Atawhai Drive said | April 13th 2012 @ 10:16am | ! Report

      I don’t have a real problem with Murray Mexted plugging the IRANZ in his column.

      But I do wonder exactly what he means when he says that IRANZ provides one-third of all NZ provincial players.

      Does this mean that they would not have gained provincial honours unless they had been to IRANZ? Difficult to prove.

      And does “provincial players” refer only to those playing in the ITM Cup, i.e. being paid to play? Or are some Heartland Championship amateurs included?

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