After the decision was made to reduce Australian Super Rugby sides to a count of four, and to cut the Western Force, it’s safe to say that many were not only hoping, but expecting a dramatic increase in form from our sides.
However, while there have been some improvements form wise, inconsistency still plagues the Australian sides to the point where it seems as if any of the four (including the Brumbies after their impressive upset over the Bulls in Pretoria), could beat each other and rightfully take top spot in the conference.
Simply take the Queensland Reds as an example. In back to back weeks they went from being levelled by more than 60 points against the humble Sunwolves, to going toe to toe and going down by a mere couple against the slick Hurricanes.
While all sides being competitive with each other is fundamental to an entertaining sports competition, what is of more interest to the fans is their ability to compete with the franchises from other nations. For many, international rugby is viewed as the pinnacle and while we all sit and savour the weekly razzle dazzle delivered to us by the Super Rugby tournament, we do so with the success of our nation in the Test matches later in the year looming in the back of our minds.
As has been brought up not just on The Roar many times but also generally in the Rugby community, a more collaborative approach between our franchises, akin to that of New Zealand, can only benefit our success. I believe the player swap that occurred between the Hurricanes and the Blues (Otere Black for Ihaia West) is not only a fantastic initiative but also the first step in an increasingly personnel – fluid professional environment for our sport.
In fact, I reckon this approach could and should be utilised to overhaul the Australian teams, making each more and more competitive.
I’m talking about drafting. The most competitive and engaged sports leagues in the world do it, particularly in America with the NBA and NFL. It creates balance from a competitive point of view, and interest, mystery and excitement from a fan-base perspective.
It merges consecutive seasons by filling the off season with a dramatic event that can suggest the fortune of one’s team. But best of all, it could promote the improved strength of all four of our franchises.
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One only has to compare the imbalance of the experience in the rosters of the Reds and Rebels, or the Waratahs and Brumbies, to understand how each team has its own individual strengths and flaws. If a nation wide reshuffle of players was conducted, it could only help each team.
Firstly, here is a rough estimate of each franchise’s best XV. Let’s ignore injuries and off field drama for the sake of using the 2018 season as an accurate representation of our pre season player pool.
1. Tom Robertson
2. Tolu Latu
3. Sekope Kepu
4. Rob Simmons
5. Ned Hanigan
6. Jack Dempsey
7. Michael Hooper
8. Jed Holloway
9. Jake Gordon
10. Bernard Foley
11. Cameron Clarke
12. Kurtley Beale
13. Curtis Rona
14. Taqele Naiyaravoro
15. Israel Folau
1. Scott Sio
2. Folau Fainga’a
3. Allan Ala’alatoa
4. Tom Carter
5. Rory Arnold
6. Isi Naisarani
7. David Pocock
8. Rob Valetini
9. Joe Powell
10. Christian Lealiifano
11. Henry Speight
12. Kyle Godwin
13. Tevita Kuridrani
14. Chance Peni
15. Tom Banks
1. James Slipper
2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa
3. Taniela Tupou
4. Lukhan Tui
5. Izack Rodda
6. Caleb Timu
7. George Smith
8. Scott Higginbotham
9. James Tuttle
10. Jono Lance
11. Filipo Daugunu
12. Duncan Paia’aua
13. Samu Kerevi
14. Izaia Perese
15. Aidan Toua
1. Tetera Faulkner
2. Jordan Uelese
3. Jermaine Ainsley
4. Geoff Parling
5. Adam Coleman
6. Lopeti Timani
7. Richard Hardwick
8. Amanaki Mafi
9. Will Genia
10. Jack Debreczeni
11. Marika Koroibete
12. Bill Meakes
13. Reece Hodge
14. Sefanaia Naivalu
15. Dane Haylett-Petty
Now following on from this, let’s (roughly!) arrange our players in terms of ability and experience. Of course, everyone will have a different opinion on these rankings but the underlying argument still stands regardless.
Loosehead: Sio, Slipper, Faulkner, Robertson, Fa’agase, Ryan, Mayhew, Daley
Hooker: Latu, Charles, Uelese, Paenga-Amosa, Rangi, Fainga’a, Ready, Mann-Rea, Fitzpatrick, Abel
Tighthead: Kepu, Allaatoa, Tupou, Ainsley, Alexander, Weeks, Talakai, Vui, Vanzati
Lock: Coleman, Rodda, Tui, Philip, Arnold, Simmons, Douglas, Carter, Hanigan, Enever, Arnold(Richie), Hockings
Blindside: Dempsey, Timu, Timani, Naisarani, McCaffrey, Cusack, Haylett-Petty(Ross), Fakaosilea, Cottrell, Scott-Young, Fainga’a
Openside: Hooper, Pocock, Smith, Miller, Hardwick, Wright, Korczyk
Eight: Higginbotham, Holloway, Wells, Valetini,
Halfback: Genia, Gordon, Tuttle, Ruru, Powell, Lucas, Phipps, Sorovi,
Flyhalf: Foley, Lance, Hegarty, Debreczeni, Stewart, Adams, Jackson-Hope
Inside: Beale, Kerevi, Meakes, Paia’aua, Lealiifano, Godwin,, Horwitz, Tuipoluto
Outside: Hodge, Rona, English, Kurindrani, Feauai-Sautia, Simone, Smith (Andrew), Foketi
Wing: Koroibete, Naiyaravoro, Naivalu, Maddocks, Clarke, Speight, Peni, Perese, Newsome, Daugunu, Dargaville,
Fullback: Folau, Haylett-Petty, Banks, Toua
We then progress to the more difficult and subjective aspect of distributing players evenly, to create four solid XVs. This is where the Brumbies manage to attain some strike power out wide, or the Reds acquire some more experience in their ranks. The Rebels and Waratahs rosters may both lose some experience but this in turn allows for greater player promotion from local sources such as the Shute Shield.
To ensure even distribution, the first team gets the first choice in the first position (Loosehead Prop) before the second team gets the first choice in the second position (Hooker) and so on.
There are several issues which would form great discussion points. Firstly, is a simple ranking system the best way to form four even sides? Or would it be more advantageous to have a complex negotiation system, where certain players who form great combinations are kept together and allowances are made for certain players who cannot move for family reasons?
Secondly, do we want four even sides? This approach prevents a pool of comparatively stronger players from accumulating at one franchise, which could form a very strong side in the competition. While this is good in theory, it doesn’t always work out in practice; eg. the Rebels in 2018.
Surely the answer must be a mixture of both. A backlog of Wallabies can deter an aspiring Super Rugby player and cause them to cash out on a deal overseas. A healthy, balanced ranking system will promote greater player retention in my opinion.
Simply having back a portion of Tatafu Polotau Nau, Scott Fardy, Nic White, Matt Toomua, Jesse Mogg, Liam Gill, Ben Mowen, Alofa Alofa, Peter Betham, Dave Dennis, Greg Holmes, Luke Jones, James Hanson and Luke Morohan would only add experience and quality to Australia rugby.
Thoughts? Rip in.