When last week I declared the rugby side of my desk closed for the year, I always had it in the back of my mind that one fairly significant announcement could see it hurriedly re-opened for business.
That fairly significant announcement came though just after 12:30pm AEDT today at the Australian Rugby Union’s St Leonards offices.
After a six-year absence, Australian rugby will finally re-establish the missing link in the professional pathways from club land to Super Rugby.
ARU CEO Bill Pulver today announced that starting in August 2014, the National Rugby Championship will run for three months, and be contested by teams from Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, and Perth. A regional or country team is also a possibility.
Sound familiar? Yes indeedy. It’s essentially the same number and structure of teams used in the Australian Rugby Championship during its sole year of competition, back in 2007.
My two cents: (read below for the official announcement)
I’ve long held – and aired – the opinion that by year five or six, the ARC could well have been self-sustaining, or even a modestly profitable competition if had been allowed to continue on from that first and only year of existence.
Anyone who went to, or watched games on TV, and even the players themselves admitted that the quality of rugby on show was excellent, and it immediately created new opportunities for the very best club players to test themselves against their Super Rugby counterparts.
Since 2007, Australia has gained a fifth Super Rugby side, but the gap between club and Super Rugby has remained too great for some players.
The NRC will bridge that gap, and will have the added benefit of providing top-level rugby in August and September from which fringe and injury-returning Wallabies contenders can get meaningful game time, rather than being consigned the training track and the gym.
That the NRC will launch with a Fox Sports broadcast deal already in place is an excellent development, and indeed, it’s the major development that allows the competition to kick off in the first place.
The strong demand and viewing numbers for New Zealand’s ITM Cup, and South Africa’s Currie Cup on Fox Sports in recent years shows that Australian rugby fans want to keep watching top quality rugby.
Now they can focus on a local product that can only boost the playing depth with the professional ranks of Australian rugby.
Demand and necessity has seen this exciting competition given a second chance at life. It’s now massively important that the Australian rugby community embraces the competition whole-heartedly.
Buy the memberships; sign up for pay-TV; wear the merchandise. It’s vital for the future of Australian rugby that you do.
The official word:
Australian Rugby Union today announced it will launch a new domestic Rugby competition in 2014, the National Rugby Championship.
Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver said the competition will be an exciting spectacle for fans and will enhance the pathway to develop elite players, coaches and match officials.
The competition will be sponsored by FOX SPORTS and Foxtel, with FOX SPORTS set to televise one live match per round plus the semi-finals and final.
Mr Pulver said in addition to providing additional broadcast content, the National Rugby Championship will generate extra revenue for Rugby.
“This is a major vote of confidence in Australian Rugby. This competition, which will include 8-10 teams from major population centres from across Australia, will also offer the opportunity to introduce innovative rules to the game to improve the spectacle for our fans.
“The National Rugby Championship will run annually at the end of Super Rugby and club Rugby seasons from August to October as a way of complementing existing competitions such as the important Premier Rugby competitions in Sydney and Queensland.
“It will also be self-funded thanks to the support of FOX SPORTS and Foxtel.
“This new competition will be a tremendous opportunity for Rugby fans to support teams from across the country in a local competition that we hope will rival New Zealand’s ITM Cup and South Africa’s Currie Cup at a time of year when there is little local Rugby being played.
“I’d like to acknowledge the support shown by stakeholders and club competitions across the country, particularly in Sydney and Queensland, where Premier Rugby competitions are working to schedule their seasons to avoid any scheduling clashes with the National Rugby Championship.
“We will continue to work with stakeholders at all levels of Rugby, including at club level, to further improve the vital role they play to create elite players,” Mr Pulver said.
Australian Rugby Union has set up the National Rugby Championship Commission to establish the competition.
Expressions of Interest are now being sought from existing clubs wanting to compete in their own right, clubs wanting to form a syndicate with other organisations such as universities or individuals who would like to apply for a place in the competition.
Expressions of Interest close on 13 January 2014, which will be followed by a formal tendering process, with successful teams expected to be announced by the end of February 2014.
Successful teams will be selected based on a number of criteria including: financial performance; professional team staffing structure and environment; commitment to player development; venue facilities; links to Super Rugby clubs; and current or potential fan base.