Reece Hodge has been moved to the bench for the Rebels’ Super Rugby AU Round 2 match against the Reds, while the Force have named three big-name signings in the matchday squad for their competition debut.
I’ve thought about this long and hard and I reckon I could write a PhD thesis on what’s wrong with Australian rugby (I just might, you never know).
But for now, let’s try and deal with some of the issues here.
I have been involved with rugby at nearly all levels my whole life. I love the game whole-heartedly and am dismayed at the way it is now the ‘fourth’ code in Australia.
Our on-field results are not anywhere near where they used to be and there is a fundamental reason for it.
The lingering issue for me in terms of what is troubling Australian rugby is that there is little to no incentive for young Australian players to persist with the game if they are not immediately picked up by a Super Rugby franchise.
There is also a genuine inadequacy that exists between the franchises.
Why are the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force treated differently to the three other franchises? I don’t buy into the argument trotted out that they are start-up franchises and don’t have the natural drawing power of the older, more traditional franchises.
The Western Force will be entering their ninth season in the Super Rugby competition next year and the Melbourne Rebels their fourth.
Prior to July 2012, the ARU policy was that the Waratahs, Reds, Brumbies and Force were given the ability to recruit two foreign players or one marquee and one developing foreign player.
Yet the decision was made for the 2013 season (and seemingly beyond) for Australia’s second youngest franchises to be given special dispensation.
They will now be allowed to have “either two developing foreign players and a marquee foreign player, or three developing foreign players.”
The Melbourne Rebels are a whole other kettle of fish. They are allowed up to ten foreign players. That’s right, ten!
Ten people playing for an Australian team that potentially aren’t Australian.
Now it is true in the 2014 season they will be down to six, four in 2015 and then they will fall into line with other Aussie franchises in 2016, but it’s still ludicrous.
From what the signings over the last year or two indicate (and definitely heading into next season) it seems the ’emerging’ Australian franchises are looking overseas before in their own backyard and that is just plain wrong.
The Western Force have made it pretty clear that they will look west before they look east for their recruiting. Same goes for the Rebels – except for the fact they are looking at ITM Cup players in New Zealand.
Why aren’t we developing players who are going to represent Australia? Do we really think these players, talented though they may be, are going to wake up every morning desperately seeking to do every single thing they can to play for Australia?
Are they going to be willing to bleed for the green and gold of this country? There is no way in hell South African and New Zealand under 20 representatives (as an example) are going to want to do this.
Why aren’t we picking the best players from the Shute Shield (NSW) and Premier Rugby (Queensland)?
Why aren’t we developing the club talent in the states of Victoria and Western Australia, so we can attract and keep local talent?
Why aren’t we ensuring the very best of our Australian schoolboys and under 20s are continued to be given opportunities, as opposed to drafting in overseas people?
I sat here and tried to write a list of people over the last few years we’ve lost to overseas clubs due to not being picked up (or let go for that matter) by Super Rugby Franchises.
It was an extensive exercise.
These are the ones I know of, being the absolute rugby tragic that I am. This though wouldn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the issue.
What about the players who dominate at the club level and are not given opportunities or if they are, it may be a one-off game or a couple of games to prove their worth.
If they then don’t prove their worth immediately, they are consigned to the waste paper bin of professional rugby in Australia.
Justin Harrison coaches Narbonne in France, joined by players Josh Valentine, Julian Huxley and Jono Jenkins.
Salesi Ma’afu – Northampton
Ben Seymour – ITM Cup
Alfie Mafi – Brive
Dean Mumm – Captain of Exeter
Mitch Lees – London Welsh
Damian Fitzpatrick – Lyon
Adam D’Arcy – Bristol
Henry Vanderglas, Peter Kimlin, Ben Hand and Dan Palmer – Grenoble
Leroy Houston – Bath
Julian Salvi – Leicester
Jake Ball – Scarlets in the RaboDirect Pro 12
David Lyons, Francis Fainifo and Richard Kingi – Stade Francais
Brock James – Clermont
Steve Mafi – Leicester
Ben Jacobs – London Wasps
Lotu Taukeiaho – Stade Aurillacois
Ole Avei, Cameron Treloar, Poutasi Luafutu – Bordeaux Top 14
In Japan: Tom Hockings, Gene Fairbanks, Mark Gerrard, Richard Brown, Cam Shepherd, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tim Bennets, Craig Wing… the list goes on.
Sure, players like George Smith, Rocky Elsom and Matt Giteau might be players you expect to lose over time, but is the time approaching where we have to start asking some serious questions as to why Australian Rugby continues to let so much talent go to waste overseas (where they can’t be picked from!) when it’s right under our noses.
My view is a pretty one simple. One international player only per franchise.
This might be an overly simplistic answer and it probably is, but I am going to try and address a few of these issues in coming posts…