Uncertainty preventing the creation of rugby’s third tier

sheek Roar Guru

By sheek, sheek is a Roar Guru

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26 Have your say

    It would seem that Australian rugby shares more than a few things in common with debate surrounding whether Australia should become a republic.

    Back on 6 November 1999, on the same day that the Wallabies would win the Rugby World Cup, a referendum was held to see if Australians were willing to accept a particular model of a republic.

    Ironically and despite a majority of Australians wanting a republic, the referendum was defeated by nearly 55% to 45%.

    Had the referendum merely asked Australians if they wished to become a republic, the referendum would have most likely been in the affirmative. The finer details could have been thrashed out later.

    But the referendum only offered one option of a republic, which was not liked and was unsurprisingly rejected.

    A majority of Australians were unwilling to accept a republic in which the president was appointed by two-thirds of parliament. How the president should be elected, or whether executive power should lie with the prime minister or president, are other issues that remains unresolved.

    And so it is with rugby supporters.

    While a majority of Australian rugby supporters believe in principle that we should have a third tier comp, or my preferred choice of words, a national domestic comp, deep philosophical divisions continue to stymie the debate as to which type of comp, let’s call it the Australian Rugby Championship (ARC), is preferred.

    Just in the past few weeks, two options have been presented to the public for debate. The first was initiated by the Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) and was intended to mimic the celebrated U.S. College sporting system, providing an U/23 competition based around nine major universities.

    The RUPA proposal was quickly followed by a Heineken Cup style format which is the joint-brainchild of former Wallabies flankers Simon Poidevin and Chris Roche. Poidevin and Roche believe that the premier rugby clubs are the lifeblood and future of Australian rugby and should be supported.

    Consequently, their idea is for the best performed clubs each year from each of Sydney’s Shute Shield, Brisbane’s Hospitals Cup and Canberra’s John Dent Cup to compete in an end of season tournament.

    Over at sister blogsite Green And Gold Rugby, two proposals were put forward last year. Both proposals put commendable detail into their models, one of which envisioned multi division playoffs in both Sydney and Brisbane.

    These proposals, along with the one from Poidevin and Roche, are similar in structure in that they mostly involve a Heineken Cup-style playoff series.

    Another throwing his hat into the ring with a third tier comp proposal is wealthy businessman Warren Livingstone, the owner of Sydney suburban club Balmain. Livingstone suggested an eight-team Sydney based comp, with clubs throwing money in to join.

    The disappointing thing common to each of these proposals is a certain sense of vested interest. Modelling a comp to develop and fine tune future Wallabies ought to be the purpose of a national domestic comp.

    Yet most of these proposals are aimed at preserving premier rugby clubs in Sydney and Brisbane, which doesn’t necessarily provide prospective Wallabies with a tough, finishing school, type of experience.

    The kind of comp that we see with South Africa’s Currie Cup or New Zealand’s NPC.

    Former ARU chief executive Gary Flowers had it right when he insisted on the ARC model of 2007. The concept was sound but unfortunately the ARC was eventually compromised by a number of structural flaws.

    You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Learn from the mistakes of the 2007 ARC and make sure its successor is better.

    Flowers drew his inspiration from the fledging A-League. Unlike the AFL, which grew out of the Melbourne-centric VFL, or the NRL which grew out of the Sydney-centric NSWRL, Australian rugby union domination is more or less evenly divided between Sydney and Brisbane.

    Thus adopting either an AFL or NRL model is obviously impractical. But the A-League provides the path ahead for the ARC.

    Those opponents who disparagingly refer to the “artificial franchise” clubs of the ARC have conveniently forgotten several things.

    Melbourne Rebels began life as a 2007 ARC club and has quickly become an accepted member of the Australian rugby landscape.

    Another 2007 ARC club, Tuggeranong Vikings, continue to dominate Canberra rugby. Sydney Fleet drew its colours from the Sydney rep team that existed from 1965 until recently.

    Also, when AFL club GWS Giants was created in 2011, it adopted orange as one of its principal colours. Orange had also been one of the colours of 2007 ARC club Western Sydney Rams.

    Finally, the Sydney Fleet, Western Sydney Rams, Melbourne Rebels and Perth Spirit all drew their nicknames from either or both of past Australian history and tradition.

    There is no better example of a start-up club drawing on history and tradition than the A-League club Western Sydney Wanderers. The new club named themselves after one of the first two clubs to play soccer in Australia.

    Since then, the Wanderers have taken the A-League by storm, creating immediately one of the most visible, fanatical and passionate fan-bases in Australian sport.

    So much for “artificial franchises” lacking a connection with their fan-base. That argument is now unsustainable.

    George Lucas is much smarter and more imaginative than most of us humans. This is how he saw things in his Star Wars saga:

    “Every generation has a legend. Every journey has a first step. Every saga has a beginning.”

    Yet another to suggest a third tier comp is South African born ex-Wallaby Clyde Rathbone. His article on The Roar on why Australia needs a third tier competition is incredibly insightful and well worth the read.

    Rathbone tells of his childhood in South Africa following the Currie Cup.

    Then later when he played club rugby with Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, he noted the huge gulf between Test and club rugby, and between strong clubs and weak clubs.

    Rathbone argues the gulf from Wallabies to Super Rugby to premier rugby is so severe in this country, a third tier comp is essential.

    This then is the crux of any future national domestic comp. The number of teams must be relatively small and consistent, funnelling talent into 8-10 more or less evenly matched clubs, providing tough, quality rugby every weekend.

    This is something that the premier rugby clubs of Sydney and Brisbane, and even Canberra, are unable to provide, despite all the best intentions. Premier rugby still has a role to play, but not as the so called the third tier comp.

    It is clear to me Australia won’t become a republic until we have the collective maturity to determine exactly the right type of structure we wish our republic to comprise.

    By an extension of the same argument, Australian rugby won’t have a national domestic comp until we have the collective maturity to determine the right type of structure we wish our national comp to comprise.

    In both situations, vested interest groups have no role, nor should they have any role, to play.

    A former rugby lock, cricket no.11 bat and no.10 bowler, and surfboat rower. A fan of the major team sports in Australia.

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    The Crowd Says (26)

    • February 5th 2013 @ 1:44am
      Jason said | February 5th 2013 @ 1:44am | ! Report

      ” So much for “artificial franchises” lacking a connection with their fan-base. That argument is now unsustainable.” I’m sorry but those names were absolutely pathetic and showed no respect to rugby tradition and culture. How can you compare the Westen Sydney Wanderers to those ridiculous ARC names? The Wanderers name was chosen because it had history and tradition, to try to argue that the ARC nicknames somehow share these qualities is absurd. Same plastic feel as the BBL ‘clubs’.
      If the ARU wishes to go down the same path as Western Sydney in choosing its names, it should be after the foundation or traditional clubs of the area they represent. For example Brisbane could have ‘Bonnet Rouge’, ‘Rangers’or ‘Brothers’ or ‘Associates’ for a Perth based team.

      Btw I think the whole segue from the Repubican debate to third tier rugby structure wasn’t as smooth or relevent as you may think…..

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2013 @ 1:56am
        abnutta said | February 5th 2013 @ 1:56am | ! Report


        West Sydney Rams – does this not refer to the “shock troops of colonisation”, “the squatocracy” etc?
        Central Coast Rays – very apt, invokes both sunshine and marine life
        Melbourne Rebels – I’d have thought this relates to Eureka
        Sydney Fleet – First fleet 1788? Port Jackson?

        Canberra Vikings would be a play off the “raiders” name and in that vein I’d have proposed “Colts” for one of the Brisbane teams (as in Broncos)

      • February 5th 2013 @ 1:58am
        Bakkies said | February 5th 2013 @ 1:58am | ! Report

        How about the teams not have new creative nicknames. Bring back the Canberra Kookaburras (the ACT rep team prior to the Brumbies was nicknamed the Kookaburras), Sydney rep team without a nickname and the Western Sydney side. Have these teams represent Sydney and the ACT.

        • Roar Guru

          February 5th 2013 @ 8:14am
          sheek said | February 5th 2013 @ 8:14am | ! Report


          I also thought Kookaburras was great, but Brumbies has taken the ‘brand’ to another level.

          I still believe super rugby should be HC-style, with clubs qualifying via national domestic comps.

          I would have the following in Australia:

          ARC (professional division like ITMC/NPC)

          Brisbane Reds

          Canberra Brumbies

          East Sydney Fleet

          Melbourne Rebels

          Newcastle Wildfires

          Perth Force

          Sydney Waratahs

          West Sydney Rams

          ARS (amateur division like NZ Heartlands Championship)

          Adelaide Black Falcons

          Darwin Mosquitoes

          NSW Country Cockatoos

          Qld Country Heelers

          ACT Country (Southern Inland) Kookaburras

          Tasmania Jack Jumpers

          Vic Country Axemen

          WA Country Numbats

      • February 5th 2013 @ 3:09am
        AndyS said | February 5th 2013 @ 3:09am | ! Report

        Name it after an existing club (or worse, actually base it around existing clubs) and you alienate the majority of what support might accrue to an ARC type competition. Bakkies is right, if you want some history/tradition/identity then name them Sydney, Melbourne, Perth etc, especially as the nature of the competition and money involved will tend to favour locally based players.

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2013 @ 8:00am
        sheek said | February 5th 2013 @ 8:00am | ! Report


        Most of the ARC nicknames were well thought out. A couple weren’t.

        The Rams, Fleet, Rebels, Spirit and Spirit were cleverly thought out.

        The Vikings is explained by abnutta, plus it is the nickname of the most powerful club in Canberra – Tuggeranong Vikings.

        Tornadoes and Aces didn’t work.

        • February 5th 2013 @ 2:47pm
          Jason said | February 5th 2013 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

          None of them worked clearly, nicknames should be organic, develop over time. Not forced down the throat of potential supporters, that’s the best way to alienate people.

          • February 5th 2013 @ 9:46pm
            Bakkies said | February 5th 2013 @ 9:46pm | ! Report

            I say the Vikings would have alienated a lot of non Tuggeranong supporters in the ACT. Larkham listed his club as Wests (ACT) rather then the Canberra Vikings.

    • February 5th 2013 @ 5:58am
      Billy Bob said | February 5th 2013 @ 5:58am | ! Report

      What? This is about names?
      It’s about the right structure. The names are important after the architecture is in place.
      I tend to agree about the club idea Sheek, the old clubs are not the way. There are other ways to tap into traditional spirit.

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2013 @ 8:07am
        sheek said | February 5th 2013 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        Billy Bob,

        if you’re creating an ARC/A-League concept, then choice of names is critical. Western Sydney Wanderers being the outstanding example.

        In the 2007 ARC model, Fleet, Rams, Rebels, Rays & Spirit made an immediate positive impact.

    • Roar Guru

      February 5th 2013 @ 8:22am
      Rickety Knees said | February 5th 2013 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      Great post Sheek!

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2013 @ 11:52am
        sheek said | February 5th 2013 @ 11:52am | ! Report

        Thanks Rickety,

        But I’m struggling for oxygen being stuck so far down the list of posts! 😉

        • February 5th 2013 @ 1:19pm
          kingplaymaker said | February 5th 2013 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

          sheek I think the obstacle is actually that advertisement under the first article on the right, which I must say I think could be moved elsewhere.

          I had my own issues with my article being read yesterday because of the Superbowl, a mistake I made in a previous year!

    • February 5th 2013 @ 11:03am
      rough conduct said | February 5th 2013 @ 11:03am | ! Report

      The ARC is lazy map pinning, designed to cause least offence. Long may it remain dead, buried, cremated.

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2013 @ 11:56am
        sheek said | February 5th 2013 @ 11:56am | ! Report

        Rough Conduct,

        Of course the universities/academies option is best – helps keep rugby as a pastime for the privileged, connected, rich & spoilt.

        A niche sport, just like polo.

        Oh, we’ll throw in the odd tradie & labourer here & there just to give the impression of inclusiveness, but what we really want is to keep it for the rich & privileged. 😉

        • February 5th 2013 @ 12:12pm
          Rough Conduct said | February 5th 2013 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

          Since when are universities for the rich and privileged? What century are you living in? Are teachers and nurses rich and privileged?

          This idea of university exclusivity is way outdated, tertiary education is more accessible and more flexible than it has ever been in Australia’s history. Do you think all NBA and NFL players are from the private school elite because they went to university? This is just tall poppy syndrome, people who didn’t get to go to university when they were young are still bitter about it, have to cut everyone else down, label them as ‘privileged’. What rubbish.

          • Roar Guru

            February 5th 2013 @ 1:03pm
            sheek said | February 5th 2013 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

            I went to Uni, but once I realised it wasn’t for me, I dropped out. I’m not bitter, but relieved.

            Anyway, you & I aren’t ever going to agree on this, so I won’t argue the point with you anymore.

        • February 5th 2013 @ 2:50pm
          Jason said | February 5th 2013 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

          Seriously, you would really label university students as privileged, connected, rich and spoilt? Any credibility you had was completely lost in that statement.

          • February 5th 2013 @ 3:31pm
            AndyS said | February 5th 2013 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

            My concern would be more that, like schools rugby, the focus should be more on education rather than sport. But on the question of access, while I’d agree that access to university has generally improved, it is stil relative. Read these:

            Headlines are that
            “people from low SES backgrounds are significantly under-represented in Australian higher education”
            “Attendance rates vary markedly between socio-economic groups, and this persists even as absolute participation rises”, and
            “…in a community that no longer likes to talk about social class, the uncomfortable fact remains that the least likely to study at university are the poor and disadvantaged”

            Those are not distinctions that we should be perpetuating within our sport, particuarly if we are interested in getting any support from government.

          • Roar Guru

            February 6th 2013 @ 7:49am
            sheek said | February 6th 2013 @ 7:49am | ! Report

            Jason – you stalking me…..?

    • February 5th 2013 @ 11:19am
      Johnno said | February 5th 2013 @ 11:19am | ! Report

      Either way, it seems the ARU think they can make more money off super rugby. But it always surprises me, when away games in South Africa are not watched enough. But the revenue pot, is shared 3-way , so Aust/NZ make money for free of South African local derbies,.
      ARC would be so much better, I am so bored of STH African super rugby sides in our domestic comp.

    • February 5th 2013 @ 12:45pm
      Who Needs Melon said | February 5th 2013 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

      After reading this and the other article on the 3rd tier today on the Roar, one thing is clear: You are absolutely spot on in your likening this to the debate over Australia being a republic.

      I think we’re a bit like the frog in the slowly boiling pot at the moment. Whilst things only very slowly get worse, people can continue to claim it ain’t broke and nobody is going to fix it. I can envisage some major dispute at SANZAR level causing the whole Super rugby thing to fall apart. And this leading to some beaut new domestic rugby comp being set up. But barring that, I just can’t see any administrator ever having the balls to make a significant change. Whatever option you pick, you’ll have so many opposed to it and undermining it. And it would be all too easy to be accused of ‘repeating the ARC mistake’.

      And with a banker type guy at the helm, he’s just going to look at the numbers. They won’t work out and so he won’t go there.

      A horrible problem of the modern age in my opinion: We don’t have the sort of visionaries who built bridges, railways, opera houses, etc. in the past and said ‘damn the expense’. It’s all short term thinking now. *sigh*

      [Is my reverse psychology type goading too obvious to have any impact on decision makers do you think?] 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2013 @ 2:22pm
        sheek said | February 5th 2013 @ 2:22pm | ! Report

        Hi Melon,

        Yeah, I was just trying to approach an old issue from a different angle.

        I don’t think it’s that difficult to work out.

        Sport in most countries works on the pyramid structure -starting with a huge junior base (except for rugby!) then narrowing (naturally) until you reach the national team.

        To have playoffs for premier rugby clubs or a universities or academy based comp merely perpetuates the existence of current lower levels or is a wish list for vested interests.

        What is required between club rugby & the Wallabies is a narrow yet sizable bridge where talent is funneled & fine-tuned before the players become Wallabies. It also provides a useful professional player base & therefore a career path.

        South Africa’s rugby Currie Cup, NZ’s rugby NPC, Australia’s cricket Sheffield Shield all achieved this before the best players were taken out of the system.

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