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Opinion

What should the domestic rugby landscape look like in Australia?

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Roar Rookie
25th March, 2021
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When it comes to the domestic rugby landscape in Australia, Super Rugby needs to continue into the near future.

Rugby at Super Rugby level is rebuilding in Australia and on an upwards trajectory due to it being domestically based and on free-to-air TV. These two factors have proven key for any really successful sports competition in Australia.

Super Rugby AU means Australian rugby fans get to celebrate a win somewhere in Australia each weekend. And even when your team loses, at least you know it will still be good for the Wallabies. Super Rugby AU also means an Australian team is guaranteed a grand final victory.

This is not just a case of Australian rugby fans being sore losers. It is vitally important for rugby to thrive in Australia within such a competitive sporting market among the football codes.

Jordan Petaia of the Reds makes a break

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

In order to rebuild, rugby in Australia needs lots of good news stories. There might come a time when it’s good for Super Rugby to become a purely international competition again, but that time is not now. Super Rugby AU needs at least another five years to gauge its potential, and only then can it be properly assessed whether it should remain the same or is ready for change. Rugby Australia cannot afford to miss this opportunity to test the waters.

This doesn’t mean there should be no international component to Super Rugby, but any international component needs to happen after a standalone domestic Super Rugby competition. If the five Australian teams were entered into a purely international competition as they are at the moment and without adequate depth, it would feel like the slow death spiral of old Super Rugby all over again.

Watching two or three Australian teams predictably losing every weekend to overseas squads does not win new fans to the game in Australia, and it makes other football codes look more appealing to local spectators looking for something to cheer about. In this respect Super Rugby AU has been one very small positive to come out of COVID-19.

Along with Super Rugby AU, the current Super Rugby Trans-Tasman concept is also ideal for the times. It really is the best of both worlds. It allows all teams involved to experience a domestic competition and an international tournament without having to play the same teams from their own domestic competition too many times. Brilliant!

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Super Rugby Trans-Tasman also effectively creates two seasons in one. This means an extra grand final, extra silverware and extra glory. This is good for spectators, teams and broadcasters.

Being post-season also keeps the international component mysterious and interesting. You begin to wonder how some of the teams from Super Rugby AU would go against the teams from Super Rugby Aotearoa and vice versa. You also begin to wonder which team really is the best of the best. Whether your opinion is realistic or not, it creates debate and interest in a trans-Tasman competition as well as further interest in each other’s domestic competitions. This is a win-win.

The only small improvement I would make to Super Rugby at this stage would be to include a Fijian team in Super Rugby AU and Moana Pasifika in Super Rugby Aotearoa. This allows for three games across each weekend for both Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa, which is better from a broadcasting point of view. And with Super Rugby Trans-Tasman in place, it also guarantees eight home games and eight away games for every team every year, which is ideal for the teams from a financial point of view, especially considering it is about the maximum number of games possible fitting within the current international season. Perfect!

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When it comes to club rugby in Australia, my ideal is for a true national club championship. All the city-based club competitions would run parallel to Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Trans-Tasman and finish when the international season begins at the back end of the year. Then all the non-Test Super Rugby players would return to their club teams from the area in which their Super Rugby team is based for a big knockout competition for any Australian rugby club that wishes to enter.

It would be an FA Cup-style competition, so even if up to 64 clubs were to enter, it would be all over in only six weeks. Running parallel to the Wallabies would give club rugby a privileged time in the sun, as club fans would get to follow their team to potential national glory. There would be nothing else quite like it. And I believe the final would generate quite a bit of interest, which could be very special for rugby in Australia.

Yes, Australia still needs another way to develop its player depth, but now is not the time to restart the fight for the NRC. For the time being, Rugby Australia needs to think creatively and come up with a different strategy to develop depth.

Whether it be something during the preseason, a resurrection of the Australia A team or somehow involving certain players in New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup if it were to benefit New Zealand rugby too, I don’t know – but Rugby Australia needs to come up with some way of developing depth while also allowing for the maximising of the tribalism and unifying potential of club rugby.

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