Does anyone else find this story familiar?
In the last three years my ritual for watching Super Rugby had progressively become a process of looking at what matches were coming up on the weekend, choosing an ever declining subset of what might be interesting, setting up the Foxtel box to record those matches, looking at the scores after the games had finished and then realising when it was a 20-plus point drubbing of another Aussie side that I didn’t want to watch any of them.
Seeing Aussie teams fail miserably again and again just isn’t entertainment; it’s torture, and I’m not going to pay anyone for that.
What I didn’t really understand given it was so incremental over a long time was that my interest was there but the product I wanted to watch had disappeared.
I honestly love rugby. I’ve been a player. My family have all played. My son plays. My daughter plays sevens and touch. I’ve coached junior teams. I have rugby in my DNA. I’m the kinda sad sod who replays scrums to see how a side is dominating another. I simply find the game fascinating.
But my interest in professional rugby, the supposed pinnacle of the game, had totally gone, and I don’t think I truly understood why. Strangely, Super Rugby AU has provided the answer and the solution all in one.
Simply put, as I’ve got used to Super Rugby AU being about Aussie teams playing other Aussie teams every week, I’ve started watching again. And I mean every game. It means something again.
I know the teams and I know the players. The connection is back.
I’m loving it, and if others are experiencing the same, maybe this points to the model that will work going forward. I just want to see competitive matches where the result is in doubt from the outset. And I want to see players I have come to know develop and be able to follow them at a predictable time every week, just like I watch my favourite series on TV.
By getting rid of the international teams we’ve achieved exactly that. So let’s keep it that way.
If my vote as a rugby punter counts for anything, I want to see Super Rugby AU made permanent. Then absolutely let’s follow this by a mini competition between the best of Australia, best of New Zealand best of South Africa et cetera. That makes perfect, logical sense to me.
The Australian main season matches will be competitive, interesting and compelling viewing, just as they are today. Then only the best teams get to play an international series afterwards. Teams have to earn the right to play internationally, making international rugby rarer, a step up in quality and therefore something of value again.
If Rugby AU wants to add a State of Origin series in there, all the better. I’ll watch that as well.
So perhaps in all the disruption of COVID-19 are the seeds of the long road back for Australian professional rugby. Please, Rugby AU, heed the lessons learnt. Prioritise a compelling rugby product over international broadcast dollars. Put the value back into international rugby by making it rare and a higher level that has to be earnt.
While the transition will undoubtedly hurt in the near term and players who have been paid unsustainable amounts for a long time will move overseas, in the long run it will be better for the sport.