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In what was a terrible year for Australian rugby, the lowest point of 2017 was the Western Force being cut.
I’m from Sydney, have never been to Perth, and don’t know too much about the rugby culture there, but from the reaction of most fans, players and billionaires, there is clearly a passion that isn’t nationwide.
I can’t imagine the reaction from the Melbourne fans being anywhere near as emotional had it been the Rebels getting the chop. In fact, as a long-time NSW supporter, I would have welcomed cutting the Tahs as a mercy killing!
But there was genuine, heartfelt disappointment out of the West.
Rugby in Western Australia clearly forged ahead under the banner of the Force, giving youngsters a genuine pathway that didn’t exist previously. By ripping this away, Rugby Australia have left a deep scar.
However, with Super Rugby in Australia dipping to new lows, maybe the best place for the Force to be is out of the comp, so they can concentrate on developing the game by their own means.
As the professional rugby structure withers under the current administration, traditional competitions such as the Shute Shield are finding a new lease on life. Hardcore fans are finding better avenues to follow the game they love and it doesn’t involve the professional game, which has disconnected itself from the amateur game.
Rugby WA has the perfect opportunity to build a strong structure that (with the help of a certain billionaire’s bank account) can create a pathway to a professional career.
They can break the ball and chain of the RA management that is dragging the game down in the rest of the country.
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Even with a new CEO since the decision to cut the Force, there is a stigma attached to the current administration. To operate with a degree of independence could bring more benefits to rugby in the west. So while cutting the Force was disastrous in the short-term, perhaps it has provided the perfect opportunity for the game there to thrive.
This is their time to plough resources into the local game, from juniors all the way up to the Pindan Premier Grade. What better way to respond than to build a structure to rival that of Brisbane and Sydney?
I follow the Force with a passing interest on some social media sites and from what I have seen there is a positive feeling about the upcoming World Series Rugby.
There have also been development and grassroots programs being rolled out that appear well sponsored, which for a team without a regular competition to play in is impressive.
Compare this with the daily, depressing news coming out of Super Rugby in Australia – poor ratings, attendances and results (although admittedly slightly less so than last year).
If South Africa decide to pull out of Super Rugby, what will happen to the remaining teams? This is speculation, however, if big TV dollars dry up, could RA be looking at insolvency?
If I was a sponsor considering buying rights to the Australian market, I’d be looking for bargain prices considering how poor the product is performing.
As long as the current administration haven’t completely ruined the sport by 2020, maybe going broke might be the best thing that could happen. This would force the old guard to relinquish control and make way for a completely fresh start.
Similar to football in the early 2000s, who had Frank Lowy behind the renaissance, Andrew Forrest could well be the saviour for Australian rugby.
Key to the successful transformation of football was finding a compromise between national, state and club interests and blending these into a sustainable national competition. By its very nature, this is not possible under SANZAAR. Could Twiggy pull it off?
This year’s World Series Rugby is only designed to get the Force onto the field and next year a complete competition is planned. I don’t see any future to the comp if it is to run concurrently with Super Rugby, but if sponsors are sick of the current governance and decide not to invest any further, maybe the only option for Australasian professional rugby will be down a new path.