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Opinion

If we’re going to do a full Trans-Tasman tournament, let’s go all the way

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Roar Guru
12th May, 2021
295
2781 Reads

If anyone has happened to pay attention to my regularly stated views on the matter, they will know I have reservations regarding whether a trans-Tasman competition will give Australian rugby a chance at long-term success.

As I see it, the source of the problem with the old Super Rugby was primarily that the winner was, all things being even, not going to be Australian team two times out of three.

Now, I can’t speak for other countries but a large proportion of Australian sports fans are perpetual bandwagon jumpers.

They will tune into a game if they feel there is at least a reasonable chance of a win, and they won’t go near it if they feel there isn’t a hope in hell for their team.

That said, a win rate of an Australian champion every three years may well have been enough of a share, however, there was a key part to that equation that needs to be accounted for: the words ‘all things being equal’.

Things clearly aren’t equal between the countries involved, with different levels of talent, different amounts of remuneration and other elements (such as national selection criteria) available in the three countries.

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The structure meant that success levels within each country’s teams was designed to be genuinely cyclical, but the success level between the nations could never be.

Eventually, the inevitable happened: the nation with the least inherent advantages, in terms of playing talent and rusted-on support, went through a period without success and from there, became locked in a perpetual failure loop.

Unfortunately for us, this was Australia.

The situation wasn’t helped by the nature of sport business meaning that it was the specific aim of our partners to, through their own success, keep us failing.

Izaia Perese of the Waratahs

Izaia Perese. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

Support for the game in Australia dropped to the base load, at best, with no periodic boost from a having anything like a champion and even this began to dwindle. Dollars followed the same pattern.

Talent sought out other options – overseas, or in league. Barring a miracle, the only way was down.

So, from this, you can see why I have favoured a domestic comp as the most likely path to sustainable success for Australian rugby.

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Create a model that keeps the bandwagon and all that goes with it within the country, never leaving our shores.

Given the examples of other competitions in other sports, if you have tribal support for the people to latch onto, to a point, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the quality on the field doesn’t match other comps.

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However, there is a downside.

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The amount of cash that can be generated from a solely domestic comp with five (or six, if were we to get Fiji involved again) sides is generally assumed to be less than our share of the total available in a trans-Tasman model, at least in the short term.

At a time where huge losses are being announced by Rugby Australia, passing up additional money for a long-term vision without certainty would be a difficult and brave call to make.

Facing the world with New Zealand also seems like a more certain way for the comp itself to succeed against the world, if not the Australian sides specifically.

Ruben Love of the Hurricanes

Ruben Love. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Given the financial aspect, it is understandable that a standard round robin, reminiscent of the original Super Rugby, is high on the list, if not the front runner for what Super Rugby will look like next year.

The problem from previous incarnations appear unlikely to be addressed, however. Kiwi teams will still have in-built advantages allowing them to win more.

Australian fans won’t follow teams that only lose, and so the spiral begins, with only one likely destination for the game here.

If Super Rugby does become this trans-Tasman round robin, Rugby Australia must address the reasons for this failure loop, to ensure it doesn’t repeat.

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The inherent advantages the New Zealand teams have need to be addressed. We can’t be partners with New Zealand in a venture where the organisations are simultaneously competing against each other in so many ways.

From this point, we simply will not succeed at competing with New Zealand if it is left to the levels of talent coming through the systems.

If we are to succeed against the world, the trans-Tasman needs to be a united comp with all pulling in the same direction with shared resources and goals.

Now, here’s the rub.

To allow this, the comp needs to open up player movement within it. Apply a single salary cap across the teams, award equal funds to all the teams from a single body and allow players to be selected for their nation no matter which team they play for.

Basically, run it like the NRL, except with New Zealand as a genuine equal partner. Allow teams to compete on a level playing field and allow on-field success to be shared evenly throughout the teams.

There are, of course, alternatives.

Reducing our number of teams would give us an advantage in terms of winning but there are downsides to that.

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Less teams still means less overall success for Australia and would also make growth of the game in the country very difficult with a retracted footprint.

If we are going to be partners in this, then let’s go all the way.

I know New Zealand teams will be giving up talent, however, hopefully the promise of a strong united bloc with consistent, genuine competition across the ten to 12 teams can be shown to have a higher long-term value to the New Zealand Rugby Union and its teams than getting some easy matches to have a break in intensity.

If we only go halfway with the partnership and end up where the last few years of Super Rugby were, except without South Africa, then that doesn’t seem likely to be a good chance of providing sustainable success for New Zealand Rugby Union, and much less so for RA.

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