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So Rugby Australia is faced with a billionaire rugby fanatic who wants to set up a rugby competition that involves a West Australian franchise and a number of Pacific and Asian franchises with his own money.
A dream come true for Rugby Australia, you would think.
Silly you. It seems that the cash-strapped, embattled Rugby Australia is reluctant to embrace the vision of Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest.
I don’t get the reluctance of Rugby Australia to embrace this Forrest gift. It has the potential, it seems to me, to do more for the finances and player resources of the rugby game here than anything since the 2003 Rugby World Cup tournament.
The Sun-Herald – ‘Branching Out: Why mining magnate ‘Twiggy’ Forrest is out to save the Force‘ has published an informative (and worrying) interview by Tom Decent with Forrest about his plans, aspirations and specifics regarding the World Series Rugby tournament he is putting together for 2018 and into 2019.
Towards the end of the interview, Decent asks this question: “There will be obvious parallels drawn with Kerry Packer with a name like World Series Rugby?”
And here is the answer that Forrest offers: “I don’t see any comparisons between us and Kerry Packer and cricket. We’ve been highly collegiate from day one with Rugby Australia. This is something for Rugby Australia to lose. It’s an open door for them.”
Let me highlight that key sentence: “This is something for Rugby Australia to lose.”
The way the Force was given the order of the boot from Super Rugby by Rugby Australia was a disaster for the game in Western Australia. It was like one of those botched executions in the Middle Ages when a beheading required about four blows of the axe to be completed.
Given this, you would think that any board that had botched a beheading so totally would be ecstatic when the victim suddenly revives and proceeds to offer a massive bounty to the erstwhile executioners.
Forrest, on the other hand, is suggesting that Rugby Australia is somehow holding back on its acceptance of the World Series concept. This reluctance, in turn, creates the possibility that Forrest might have to go rogue, as Packer did with the Australian Cricket Board.
But Forrest maintains he is not trying to do a Packer. He is trying to work with Rugby Australia and not against it.
So what is Rugby Australia’s problem with working with Forrest?
Earlier in the interview, after Forrest explained the innovations that World Series Rugby will introduce (scrums less than a minute, immediate lineouts, ten points for tries scored from inside the attacking side’s 22), he made the point that working with Rugby Australia was a slow-motion process as far as he was concerned. “I just had someone say to me: ‘Andrew, this has come together so fast.’ I said: ‘Mate, for what we do, this is glacial, this is like watching the grass grow.'”
It is remarkable, in fact, that Forrest and his staff have put together so quickly an initial WSR schedule of seven matches at Perth starting on May 4 against sides from Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, the Rebels, the Crusaders and a Japanese side.
He and his staff are clearly not familiar with the traditional do-nothing approach of most rugby administrations.
Moreover, there are negotiations going on suggesting that these matches will be on free-to-air television.
The fact that World Series Rugby has snared the Crusaders is very significant.
First, it shows that the greatest provincial franchise of the professional era is prepared to endorse the Forrest vision. What an endorsement and what an indication that Forrest has the support of heavyweight rugby promoters outside of Australia.
Second, this endorsement brings to WSR and to the rugby game in West Australian numerous positive rugby outcomes that flow from being involved with the smartest rugby franchise, on and off the field, in world rugby.
When Queensland Rugby was in the doldrums in the 1960s, Bob Templeton struck up a superb rugby-playing connection with the Canterbury Rugby Union. This connection led to a period of dominance by Queensland over its great rivals, NSW.
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‘Twiggy’ Forrest seems to be reviving the Templeton Plan to help develop Western Australia as a rugby power.
Compare, though, the Crusaders’ enthusiasm for playing in WSR with the reluctance of the Australian Super Rugby franchise, the Rebels.
According to Wayne Smith in the Australian, “The Rebels have not agreed to play such a (WSR) match, even though half their Super Rugby side is ex-Force.”
“We are still considering the idea,” the CEO of the Rebels, Baden Stephenson, told Smith.
This is madness. What can they possibly be considering?
Surely the Rebels know that this match should be a money-spinner for WSR and, therefore, a good thing for rugby in Western Australia?
Given the fact that a number of players from the Force are carrying the Rebels to an explosive, winning start in Super Rugby 2018, shouldn’t the Rebels be prepared to pay back to the West Australian rugby public for this gift of personnel?
If the WSR is a good enough competition for the Crusaders to fly the long journey from Christchurch to Perth to play, why is it not good enough for the Rebels?
I sometimes think the worst enemies of rugby in Australia are the administrators and board members from Rugby Australia and their counterparts in all the Super Rugby franchises.
And just a final thought about all of this. There are two vacancies on the board of Rugby Australia. One of the vacancies is to fill the place of Geoff Stokes, a long-time West Australian rugby identity.
Why wouldn’t Rugby Australia offer the Stokes vacancy to Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest?
The main truth to come out of the 2018 Super Rugby tournament so far for the Australian sides is that Western Australia has the sort of potential to be a breeding ground for a new generation of rugby players that Queensland was when Templeton created the Queensland–Canterbury nexus in the 1960s.
The Melbourne Rebels, with a significant inclusion of players from the Force and its coach of last season, Dave Wessels, have won all three of their matches this year with bonus points. This is a first for the franchise.
On Friday night, the Rebels monstered the Brumbies 33–10 in a way that suggests the latter will not be a finals team this year. Melbourne, on the other hand, could go deep.
The Reds showed true grit and one terrific breakout try when newcomer winger Filipo Daugunu fielded a long kick and raced past a heavy-footed Bulls defender, before unloading to the flying fullback Aidan Toua. Toua scorched away for a sensational and match-winning try.
The bookmakers reckon that a lot of money was placed on the Rebels earlier last week to win their first Super Rugby tournament. After the team’s strong victory over the hapless Brumbies, the odds on the Rebels doing this must surely have shortened.
Before the round, the bookmakers had the Brumbies and the Waratahs as the two most likely Australian sides to make the finals. The Rebels and the Reds were considered to be well out of contention.
A week in rugby, as it is in politics, is a long time. The Waratahs more than matched the Brumbies in their lacklustre display, except for the last couple of minutes when they scored two tries, against the Jaguares. They look to have much less hope of making the finals than the battling Reds.
If I were part of the management of the Waratahs, I would tell ‘Twiggy’ Forrest that the Waratahs will happily send a team to Perth for the WSR match to replace the Rebels.
And, in addition, that the Waratahs should make it clear that they are totally prepared to replace the Rebels as the franchise of choice for West Australian players coming out of the WSR program.
The name of the game for the failing Waratahs should be, ‘Go with the Force!’