He’s promised a rugby revolution, but does Twiggy Forrest just want to run for the mines? The billionaire yesterday announced that he had been forced to postpone his Global Rapid Rugby competition until 2020.
Forrest hoped to launch the eight-team competition in March, but explained that a tight time frame and the World Cup being played in Japan later in the year convinced him to delay kick-off.
A so-called ‘Showcase Series’ will be played this year in place of GRR involving the Western Force and teams in the Asia-Pacific under the new rules.
The announcement was deflating for rugby fans, mostly for West Australians and those from the other competing teams: Samoa, Fiji, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
But it was also a downer for curious rugby fans who had been promised a revolution – some serious law changes, a few minor tweaks and taking the fast-paced game to an audience in a region with huge potential.
Plus Twiggy was sticking it to the old guard, Rugby Australia, who had so brutally dispensed with the Force from Super Rugby in 2017.
There was plenty of hype. Plenty of chest thumping. Bravado. Twiggy was picking up the pieces, right? He was the white knight for rugby in Western Australia. If anyone could do it, it was Twiggy – as hard-nosed and savvy a deal-maker as there has been in Australia. He doesn’t take no for an answer. He doesn’t lose often.
Well Global Rapid Rugby was moving fast – faster than a Pilbara train full of iron ore – and it’s proven too fast for even Twiggy to keep it on the tracks.
It seems like a broadcast deal was the sticking point to getting the competition under way, and also two teams – perhaps Samoa and Malaysia – not being fully prepared.
But is Twiggy invested for the long run? Is he backing away, or is he regrouping? Is the outlook bleak, or is he planning to make a massive swoop for top-tier players, much like Kerry Packer’s recruitment drive for World Series Cricket?
Who knows? He could be saving himself for a spending spree to lure a bunch of star players after the World Cup.
The lack of star quality might have been what turned broadcasters off a 2019 deal. And broadcast deals provide the financial backbone of any sporting competition around the world.
Are there really enough top-drawer players coming off contract? David Pocock is one, Bernard Foley another. Dan Carter, Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper are others, but are getting close to the end of their careers.
It’s hard to fathom how he can tempt any of the top European players given the financial muscle of their clubs. Most of the top All Blacks and Springboks, if they move on after the World Cup, would likely opt for Europe or Japan if they decide to head overseas post-World Cup.
Adam Coleman, Nick Phipps and Curtis Rona are three Australian players who are rumoured to be courted by London Irish. Even if they’re the type of player that GRR targets as recruits from Super Rugby clubs, it’s debatable whether they would put bums on seats in the Asia-Pacific.
But one thing is for sure – Twiggy’s reputation will take a sizeable hit in his home state if he can’t move forward to get the competition organised over the next six months.
He’s got a PR battle to win, mostly with his fellow West Australians who have been excited and emboldened by Twiggy’s vision. He’s come too far now.
It’s conceivable that if GRR takes a solid chunk of decent players from Australia’s Super Rugby teams, then that would potentially undermine any broadcast deal that SANZAAR could gain.
And this is perhaps another reason why GRR couldn’t get up and running this year – the broad uncertainty over Super Rugby’s structure from 2021 onwards that is causing broadcasters to sit tight and monitor the landscape.
The Asia-Pacific, however, is pretty much an untried market, where a club-based competition for teams in Malaysia, Samoa, Hong Kong and Singapore hasn’t existed. The Force have experience in a professional competition, as does Fiji through Australia’s NRC.
It’s been made clear that GRR want another Australian team, perhaps based in Sydney, a New Zealand side, a Japanese team and potentially one even from the United States.
Twiggy probably needs a ten-team competition to give it more kudos and only then will broadcasters get excited and be willing to take a punt on a new and shiny product.
The attention will now move to SANZAAR, who are set to meet in March about Super Rugby’s new structure. They will be wary of the talk of a mass exodus from Super Rugby after the World Cup.
They will be wary of GRR and weigh up the appetite for reform and rule changes.
But for success and sustainability, they might be best to give fans not revolution but simplicity.
To wind it back and become more conservative, at least when it comes to choosing the teams involved. Take Super Rugby back to a 10 or 12-team competition. There’s perhaps as much demand for tradition and familiarity as there is for reform.
It’s why more fans grabbed a pie and beer on Sydney’s northern beaches for the local derby – Manly against Warringah – than attended some Waratahs games last season.