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If the paltry crowd at the Brumbies’ home game last week made jaws drop, there’s a good chance the forecast fan count at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night will make plenty more squirm.
Fan numbers are in freefall at Australia’s Super Rugby fixtures, and all while the Western Force stick the middle finger up to Rugby Australia – and anyone else who thought their axing last year was a good idea – with some solid crowds at their World Series Rugby openers.
In Canberra last Saturday night when the Brumbies hosted the Melbourne Rebels at GIO Stadium, there were 5283 die-hards. It’s a woeful figure that’s barely believable almost a week later.
Not that the Rebels are themselves immune to such a thin crowd: they got 5538 just five weeks ago when the Jaguares visited.
Melbourne had also reeled in 16,135 a week earlier against the Hurricanes at AAMI Stadium – proving how bipolar the Victorian rugby crowds can be.
Perhaps more pertinent is it proves a big win will beat any slick marketing tagline when trying to sell tickets; the Rebels were coming off a 46-14 thrashing of the Sharks at home.
Which is why the Waratahs, on a three-match losing streak, will likely struggle to get 10,000 in Sydney on Saturday night against the Highlanders.
And the vibe could’ve been so different had they forged on to victory from a 29-0 lead over the Crusaders in Christchurch. ‘The Streak’ would’ve been dead and buried at 38 against the Kiwi teams – and ended against the defending champions.
It would’ve been an appropriate antidote for Australian rugby only a few hours after the Sunwolves hammered the Queensland Reds. Israel Folau would’ve been welcomed back with open arms; not a man-love hug, but a simple celebratory embrace.
But now the Tahs are faced with already fickle fans becoming more disengaged as the season goes on – and one that following the removal of the Force, started with so much hope that the consolidation of talent was going to lift Aussie rugby.
Will the Waratahs crowd drop below the dreaded 10,000 mark?
They might be struggling to match the crowd turning up at the Shute Shield local derby between Manly and Warringah at Manly Oval the same afternoon.
Will they even announce a crowd figure? Bizarrely, no crowd figure has been made official at three home games this year, against the Rebels, Lions and Blues. It was estimated there were about 15,000 at Brookvale Oval for the clash with the Blues but maybe the figures at the other two Allianz Stadium encounters were too unpalatable to release. The secrecy is strange and naturally invites suspicion.
The record for the lowest-ever Waratahs home crowd was set last year when 10,555 fans rocked up for the loss to the now-defunct Southern Kings.
It’s hard to think that those Tahs fans that spent their Saturday night at Moore Park four weeks ago as their team got strangled by the Lions 29-0 will be itching to get back to the venue.
The Sydney Swans are playing next door at the SCG at the same time too. The last time that happened – on the same night as the Lions flogging – the Swans got 38,000 up against the Adelaide Crows.
It’s been a steady decline in Tahs crowds since the title-winning year of 2014, with the average home crowd from last season sitting at 14,500. That will almost certainly fall again this year.
The Waratahs and RA can ill-afford to be coming up short on gate takings. The both still want to re-sign Michael Hooper, Folau and Bernard Foley over the next few months. And it also means unlikely they will have the money and resources to aggressively address the mini-crisis in western Sydney following the demise of the Penrith Emus.
Waratahs fans are crying out for a performance they can get buzzing about. Time is running out this season. They were close in Christchurch, not to mention mightily unlucky given all the dud calls they copped. Folau was enormous then and he’s most likely to light it up again.
But you get the feeling a decent chunk of Tahs fans would love for Folau to fail on the field given his social media gay repenting crusade. A few more defeats and a few more Folau tweets and there’s the chance things might get a bit more toxic.
However there’s also plenty to be optimistic about heading into the next three games before the June Test break. A big win over the Highlanders would win back some fans, although as the following games are away against the Chiefs in Waikato and Reds in Brisbane, they won’t be able to immediately capitalise at home.
Two losses out of the next three games and the Waratahs will be relying on the Wallabies knocking over Six Nations champions Ireland to ensure some goodwill filters down to the last sector of their Super Rugby campaign.