Let’s hope Rugby Australia don’t go full Trump and erect wall

Will Knight Columnist

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    Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle. (AAP Image/Daniel Munoz)

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    They’re taking our jobs! We need to look after our own! Make Australia strong again!

    This may sound a bit like a rallying cry from Donald Trump or Pauline Hanson, but this type of rhetoric – more familiar amid fervent immigration debates – is actually coming from Rugby Australia.

    Surely if RA were to build a wall, it would go up halfway across the Nullabor to keep that pesky Western Force lot away.

    In fact, it was because the Force were cut last year – reducing the number of Australian Super Rugby sides to four – that RA now feels they can do without as many foreign players.

    “Going to four teams means we will work on the foreign talent eligibility because we feel that there’s limited (contracts available),” RA’s high performance manager Ben Whitaker told foxsports.com.au during the week.

    “We don’t think that there’s as much need to bring in talent (from overseas) that can play and potentially influence whether you win Super or not because we can back our talent in four teams to do that.”

    This policy shift is designed with the broader ambition of improving the Wallabies. This seems to suggest an insecurity from RA about the commercial worth of Super Rugby and highlights their stance that the game’s overall financial health is, more than ever, strongly linked to the success of the Wallabies.

    The clear emphasis is on providing depth and exposure for Australia’s rugby talent.

    It’s a perfectly logical motivation, especially given the struggles of the Wallabies recently and consistent failure to win back the Bledisloe Cup.

    However, it’s hard to think of workplace arrangements in other sporting competitions across the world that are as restrictive to foreigners as they already are for Australia’s Super Rugby sides.

    They are still allowed to sign only two foreign players (a rule relaxed at times for the Rebels and Force) to their squads, although some players have come through by committing to residency requirements to become eligible for Wallabies selection.

    Tongan-born Taniela Tupou made his Wallabies debut last year while the Brumbies’ Fijian No.8 Isi Naisarani is on Michael Cheika’s radar.

    But Whitaker refused to rule out adopting a policy that would totally prohibit foreign players in Australia’s four teams.

    “I won’t say it will be zero just yet because we’ve still got some work to do — but the number of ineligible foreign players is certainly dropping and that’s part of the strategy,” Whitaker said.

    “But I wouldn’t rule it out altogether because we might end up in a competition where you can jag someone of note that can do a whole of things — support you winning footy games, support the development of the young player and thirdly maybe even grow commercial interests.

    “We won’t say never now, but you can see what the strategy is now.”

    To put up a big brick wall to foreigners would be a step too far.

    For a start, foreigners can simply improve the quality and performance of teams. Think Amanaki Mafi at the Melbourne Rebels, Jacques Potgieter at the Waratahs, Tomas Cubelli at the Brumbies. And when an Australian team is going well, it translates to a lift in anticipation for the Wallabies.

    Amanaki Mafi

    (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

    Plus, the foreigners often bring a bit of colour and spice. This is true not only for fans but they can sometimes provide a point of difference in style and preparation. Adam Thomson and Gareth Delve are two that come to mind as players that would’ve added to the knowledge base of the Queensland Reds and Rebels, bringing across their top-level experience from New Zealand and Wales.

    I want the Wallabies to thrive as much as the next proud Strayan, but not at the detriment of potentially watching a foreign player light up Super Rugby, raise the overall level of play and entertainment and put bums on seats for the Waratahs, Reds, Rebels or Brumbies. It’s a stance that’s far too jingoistic.

    South Sydney fans don’t go to NRL games just to see bruising Englishman Sam Burgess, but he certainly adds a lot on and off the field and gives Rabbitohs supporters a reason to get behind their team. Not just because he’s a foreigner but that facet certainly adds to the club’s tapestry and appeal.

    RA might have been driven to address the issue when last season, three of the five clubs at times had non-Wallabies eligible players starting at five-eighth: Kiwis Jackson Garden-Bachop (Rebels) and Wharenui Hawera (Brumbies) and former Springbok Peter Grant (Force).

    Of course, it’s a key position but that feels like an anomaly given the current restrictions.

    Surely there’s going to be enough competition amongst all positions as it stands. The cream will rise to the top amongst four teams. Even the early rounds this season suggests the depth issue is balancing itself nicely.

    France are also struggling with their foreign player quotas amid a slide in the national side’s success.

    Just over 40 per cent of the 600 players in the Top 14 are foreigners and clubs are currently only need to have 14 Frenchmen in their 23-strong matchday squads.

    That will rise to 15 next year and 16 in 2020 and it might go even further.

    Of course, there are many more teams in the French competition but it’s unlikely they’d talk about even going close to blocking out foreigners altogether.

    Don’t put up a wall RA – a few foreigners in Australia’s Super Rugby sides is a good thing.

    Will Knight
    Will Knight

    An AAP writer for more than a decade, Will Knight does his best to make sense of all things cricket, rugby union and rugby league, all while trying to have a laugh along the way. You can find him on Twitter @WKnightrider.

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    The Crowd Says (91)

    • March 16th 2018 @ 8:08am
      Bakkies said | March 16th 2018 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      ‘Don’t put up a wall RA – a few foreigners in Australia’s Super Rugby sides is a good thing.’

      Will all unions have foreign player restrictions, the de Clyne and Pulver led fiasco aside what happened last year where there were three ineligible foreign players playing flyhalf across three separate teams and then you had two ineligible number 8s is not a good thing. These are positions where Australian Rugby needs to develop players and eligible players chose to leave as they saw what was ahead.

      The RA are not smart enough to implement the IRFU’s policy of limiting foreign players across certain positions so local players can come through.

      The Brumbies had the intention of starting two foreign players as the starting half back combination last year due to the coach being risk adverse at blooding young talent there. It will eventually happen down the line this year as Mack Hansen will have to get game time to see what he can do as the new coach has already seen the light that Leiliifano is no longer suited to play flyhalf and Hawera is not a Super Rugby quality starting flyhalf. The Connacht bound Kyle Godwin will likely get jettisoned due to the impending contract announcement as the Brumbies have to plan for the future remodelling the attack shape under the P plate head coach.

      The player management is still diabolical this year the Reds have Jono Lance starting after walking out on a contract with the Rabble. The Rabble replaced Lance with a player who is not even in the senior squad. Lance has already signed a deal to leave to play for Worcester while Jake McIntyre is getting good game time for Agen. It remains to be seen if McIntyre will end up like Brock James and Paul Warwick as in playing the bulk of his career abroad. This is before we discuss the Quade Cooper situation.

      • March 16th 2018 @ 11:17am
        Fionn said | March 16th 2018 @ 11:17am | ! Report

        Very well put, Bakkies.

      • March 16th 2018 @ 3:40pm
        Bfc said | March 16th 2018 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

        Seems being “risk adverse” is one of the KPIs for Oz coaches…
        One would assume Hamish Stewart was considered to be the starting flyhalf at the Reds ( when QC was cut, Stewart was the only other flyhalf on contract…) yet he is now gathering splinters from the bench while Lance plays…and Lance has already signed to play for Worcester..next season?

        • March 16th 2018 @ 4:09pm
          Perthstayer said | March 16th 2018 @ 4:09pm | ! Report

          Bfc +1 your sentiment

          A rising tide lifts all boats.

          God forbid they introduce something similar with coaches.

        • March 16th 2018 @ 6:11pm
          Bakkies said | March 16th 2018 @ 6:11pm | ! Report

          It is ridiculous as it goes against the grain of Australian player development.

          Particularly from Larkham who played his first game for the Brumbies at 13 in 1996 and the season before he was the reserve grade scrum half. The Brumbies coaches saw something in him that the Kookaburra’s management hadn’t.

          Jordan Jackson Hope is a player that he had under his wing yet gave him very little game time and signed an ineligible kiwi to jump in front of him in the queue.

      • March 17th 2018 @ 2:47pm
        woodart said | March 17th 2018 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

        I read this article ,and think about the fifjians who have qualified for aus and the fijians that many aussies are waiting for….. I realise trump is a —head who has made both mexico and canada think about putting walls up, dont be like trump….

    • March 16th 2018 @ 8:30am
      Tissotime Time said | March 16th 2018 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      Cipriani did not improve the quality and performance at the Rebels.

      • March 16th 2018 @ 2:59pm
        Gilbert said | March 16th 2018 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

        Amanaki Mafi did.

      • March 16th 2018 @ 3:34pm
        Sheikh said | March 16th 2018 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

        Cipriani did improve the enjoyment of watching the game as he provided much entertainment. Sadly for the Rebels, much of that entertainment was for the opposition.

        • March 17th 2018 @ 6:34pm
          ScottD said | March 17th 2018 @ 6:34pm | ! Report

          and in the newspapers 🙂

    • March 16th 2018 @ 10:18am
      Gary Russell-Sharam said | March 16th 2018 @ 10:18am | ! Report

      I seem to think that foreign players appear to enhance the side while playing overseas in Europe etc but it happens rarely in Australian sides.

      I agree there has been some good players like Potgieter at the Tahs but in all there haven’t been too many; unlike the Aussies that have been major contributors to overseas rugby, Barnes, James, O’Connor, Holmes etc just to name a few

      It seemed that some of the super franchises in the last couple of years imported players that were not above the standard that we had already.

      The approach from some coaches was to have instant gratification by importing an experienced player from NZ or some other country to fill a void in the team rather than investing in bringing an inexperienced young talented Aussie player into the team.

      As a fan I’d rather some short term pain for some long term gain. Draw from within and give them the experience that they require.

      In the past has there been a dire shortage of talented player from Australia, I think not. I’m a person that has faith and trust in the talent that comes from within. Wallaby teams have always been the level of any team in the world, even to NZ, although not a great winning % the Wallabies are without question on a par with any other rugby power.

      As in the past we didn’t have imports across our competition and rugby was successful as were the Wallabies. Why are we espousing that we should be reliant on them now.

      I have no opposition to players from other countries playing in Australia as long as it does not impinge on restricting players from within being held back from getting an opportunity at playing at the top level.

      Nurturing a player through the ranks is commendable but at some time they need to be blooded, there is a tendency for coaches to go the experienced way rather than risk a young talented player on the rise. That’s why you see a fair % of young players go overseas or lost to League.

      In a perfect world I rather see no impots in the Super sides but it is never perfect.

      • Roar Guru

        March 16th 2018 @ 10:49am
        PeterK said | March 16th 2018 @ 10:49am | ! Report

        I would allow a few young (max 20 yrs old) development players who could become eligible in 5 years however they would need to be in positions lacking depth / talent.

        I would allow 1 foreign ineligible for wallabies per club but not in the same position.
        First club to sign up a foreign player in a position locks that position out for other clubs.

        • March 16th 2018 @ 4:19pm
          Perthstayer said | March 16th 2018 @ 4:19pm | ! Report


          I like idea foreign players add value, but this needs some maturity.

          I prefer sowing local seeds. Western Force Future Foundation is a pretty good blue print.

    • March 16th 2018 @ 10:35am
      Puff said | March 16th 2018 @ 10:35am | ! Report

      It sounds like the Whitaker strategy is another play on words and like most statements from the RA is high on possibilities but low in content. Like most supporters of the code to receive an announcement from the AR that is balanced, progressive and can provide confidence that someone within the glass dome has their act together. Will not be delivered any time soon. After the horrendous ineptitude displayed in recent years reducing foreign eligibility would not be high on my list. With the continual pillage from northern clubs, super franchisers would struggle for depth without offshore talent. The problem with the code is much more simplistic than this, it requires change at the top, with administration that can grow the sport, not decrease it.

      • Roar Guru

        March 16th 2018 @ 12:47pm
        El Gamba said | March 16th 2018 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

        I agree Puff, why even say anything? Make a informed decision on what they way forward is and why eligibility rules are changing and implement at an appropriate time, I assume it would be a couple of years away anyway given existing contracts and the fact that they don’t even know what Super rugby looks like in a couple of years.

        • March 16th 2018 @ 4:20pm
          Perthstayer said | March 16th 2018 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

          Gamba – I’ll answer your question within 42 to 72 hours

    • March 16th 2018 @ 11:16am
      Ex force fan said | March 16th 2018 @ 11:16am | ! Report

      Noticed how Ben Whitaker side-stepped that the reason that Australia cannot afford to have foreign players in Superugby sides because 20% less Australian players are playing superugby every week. The focus should always have been on better coaching and more pathways for local players to migrate to the Wallabies. We should have done what NZ did, use all their Superugby sides to build depth not destroy it.

      • March 16th 2018 @ 10:44pm
        Bakkies said | March 16th 2018 @ 10:44pm | ! Report

        The same Ben Whitaker who hasn’t renewed Andy Friend’s contract despite him winning a title recently and getting the team their most consistent results. I can remember the dark old days of the strike, losing often to the likes of Portugal who aren’t even on the circuit currently and missing out regularly on the Cup Quarter Finals.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 16th 2018 @ 12:04pm
      piru said | March 16th 2018 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

      What’s really needed as a third ‘nursery’ of talent outside of NSW and QLD.

      Perhaps a state on the other side of the country who’s junior programmes are coming along in leaps and bounds with strong support from their local Super side.

      I’d say the best thing to do would be to nurture and develop this further source of future wallabies.

      Or, you know, cut the pro team and leave the local comp to twist in the wind – that would work too.

      The biggest threat to the ongoing future of rugby in Australia is not League, AFL or a down economy – it’s its own administration.

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