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It was interesting to hear last week the discussion about Rugby Australia rebranding itself. No doubt this sounds like a good marketing ploy, especially as the organisation continues to shoot itself in the foot.
It is interesting to note that Rugby Australia has recently withdrawn its financial support for school rugby. Previously they helped finance both the Australian Schools Rugby championships and the Australian Schoolboys team, but in their wisdom they have decided that New South Wales schools and Australian Schools Rugby can no longer have access to these funds.
Instead Rugby Australia have decided to put their money into the creation of two academy teams made up of 40 players in New South Wales and 40 players in Queensland. This is despite results from the Australian Schoolboys have been quite strong since 1973 – bewteen 1973 and 2013 they scored 31 wins and eight losses compared to the UK and Ireland’s nine wins and 27 losses. New Zealand has won just four times since 2006.
Players selected in these teams will train with their academies, and then in around October these teams will play off for selection to an Australian team – I can’t call this team a schools team as it won’t be – to play New Zealand or England. So if you think rugby in Australia is an elite sport, then it just got ‘eliter’.
This means there’s a pathway for 80 players to enter a program to select this team while the other tens of thousands who might still play rugby at a junior level – and we know that this number is dwindling all the time, much to the delight of Football Federation Australia and AFL – will participate in a schools program to be selected in a second-tier team to play other minnow rugby-playing countries.
It is lucky that New South Wales schools with the support of NSW Rugby will continue to hold their championships in high regard to ensure that schoolboys still have some opportunities to be seen playing rugby at a representative level and therefore the chance of attaining higher representation.
What fascinates me most is the fact that Rugby Australia no longer recognises the great work done both in the past and in the present at a junior level in giving thousands of school children a pathway to a Wallabies jersey.
The ABC’s Luke Pentony recognised the importance of schools rugby when he recently said “A focus on school rugby is crucial“, and he went on to remind us of past Wallabies teams that were made up of schoolboys.
It seems Rugby Australia disagrees, although their model seems to suggest they will work with schools and junior clubs to select school representative pathways – but, and here is the clincher, “the process will be led by Rugby Australia and involve state academy and schools and club under-18 personnel” – according to a September press release.
So far what this means is that “RA will not be diverting investment from other areas to fund the national schoolboy championships”, and they have so far offered a management position in the Australian under-18s team to a school teacher, which is a nice example of tokenism. Obviously our coaching stocks are quite deep at the moment!
Rugby Australia has stated they will “invest in how those coaches and teachers, in schools, can be better supported to provide quality rugby experiences to students and recognise their importance”. So they intend doing this by rejecting teachers as coaches and by withdrawing support for the schools pathways? What a great strategy! The only trouble is that within a few years there will be no kids left in schools to play rugby.
What amazes me is how dysfunctional Australian rugby pathways are at the moment – they all seem to be working independently. I can’t wait to hear what Rugby Australia intend to use as a new branding name – shame they can’t use ROOTS, as this seems to be at the crux of their problems.