Super Rugby had its flaws, but it did serve to highlight certain truths: South Africa has not stopped producing work-class rugby players and Australia, largely speaking, has.
The deeper issue is that coach development stagnated in the early 2000s, and the rugby community of Australia has found no effective way to first understand and then remediate the problem.
This would, however, seem to be the least of the concerns if recent statements attributed to Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan are to be believed. McLennan is reported in the NZ media saying: “Obviously the Kiwis have to buy into it and it’s not invented by them, so they might be reticent”.
The topic is much less important than the gigantic chip resting on his shoulders.
The current standoff between Rugby Australia and the New Zealand Rugby Union rests on the idea that equal participation will drive standards up in Australia.
What on earth have we discovered over the last 15 years beyond the uncomfortable truth that Australia cannot support four let alone five Super Rugby teams?
Far from taking a position of cultural superiority, the NZRU’s stance on the make-up of Super Rugby in 2021 is an acknowledgement of simple truths.
The crowds in Super Rugby Aotearoa are the highest is many years and in combination with vastly superior TV audiences, this allows for no other conclusion than fans will pay for nothing less than high-intensity, high-skill slugfests.
As things stand, Super Rugby 2021 will not involve trans-Tasman competition. While this may present challenges for Aotearoa, it is the very definition of biting your nose to spite your face for RA to believe they are better off with five professional franchises playing each other.
It has amused and amazed in equal measure how the parallels between different trans-Tasman competitions have not been learnt.
Rugby, by virtue of its depth in Aotearoa, is the only sport that can command an uneven participation base in NZ’s favour.
NZ provides a single franchise in each of the Australian football, baseball, basketball and rugby league competitions ostensibly because the performance outcomes dictate that this should be so.
It is not impossible to believe that Aotearoa could have more NRL teams or another NBL team, but not before success suggests there is the sporting infrastructure to support it.
Opportunity, by itself, is not enough. Pressure is also necessary, as it drives standards.
But perhaps the greatest single ingredient is self awareness. Without a sense of one’s strengths and one’s vulnerabilities, we are highly unlikely to develop the culture to support the systems and resources needed to elevate the entire community.
There are some who believe the low water mark in NZ rugby was the period between 1998 and 2003.
I propose that Australian rugby has been watching its own tide ebb since that time, and the principal reason it continues to do so is a fatal lack of self awareness.
It is time for Australian rugby to mature and acknowledge its truths.