For Rugby Australia, Saturday’s Bledisloe Test was an unmitigated success.
The Wallabies earned some confidence in a thumping win over New Zealand and it was all done in front record crowd of over 61,000 people, in Perth no less.
For a state that has felt spited with the unceremonious dumping of the Force two years ago, such a large turnout and the electric atmosphere that came with it has done many Western Australians proud. Hopefully this form can be carried through to Auckland next week.
There’s no doubt that Saturday’s game was ample evidence that there is a serious appetite for rugby in WA. The recent State of Origin match held at Optus Stadium also drew a near capacity crowd.
Yet a game of rugby union has so far attracted the largest crowd ever for the stadium, beating even the attendances for the West Coast Eagles’ finals run last year.
For anyone who saw Saturday’s game, or even remembers the crowds at Subiaco Oval when the Western Force first ran out, any doubts that a rugby franchise can be sustained out west must surely have been quashed now.
While AFL is dominant during winter, I have no doubts that rugby can be the second winter sport in WA. Perth has large expat communities from New Zealand, South Africa and the UK, all of which are more inclined to rugby union than league.
Yet the axing of the Force has inevitably led to rumours of a potential rugby league franchise in Perth to fill the void. Such a move would still be a number of years off, as discussions can only commence once the NRL broadcast deal is next up for renegotiation.
That division of the potential player pool between four winter codes hurts the supply of talent to rugby in this country.
I wish to keep the number of codes in WA to three – rather than four – and establish WA as bastion of union in this country.
RA has won some goodwill in WA now and indeed the rest of Australia with the win over NZ. Yet part of me has a niggling suspicion that this administration will revert to type and fail to capitalise on this success, which will see enthusiasm dwindle over time.
Evidently, we want to see the Wallabies here in Perth more. Yet I don’t think wounds will ever fully heal until the Western Force is readmitted to Super Rugby or whatever it becomes. Access is needed to the highest level.
Was the West won on Saturday? Only time will tell.
RA has won its most recent battle. It still needs to win the war.