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How to fix Australian rugby's trans-Tasman problem

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Roar Rookie
22nd May, 2021
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9749 Reads

After two rounds of Super Rugby Trans Tasman, the score is New Zealand 10 wins, Australia zero.

Rugby Australia, we have a problem. With all Australian teams out of finals contention already, this Trans Tasman tournament is in danger of dying a commercial death. Losing is not good for business.

Australia, through no fault of our own, is geographically next door to New Zealand – a country that’s only good at one thing: rugby. NZ is the greatest rugby-playing nation on earth.

Young Kiwis grow up frozen in the cold, and whipped by the wind, dreaming of one day moving to Australia, to warm up, to get a job, and earn real Australian dollars.

That’s what they aspire to. That’s why they keep comparing themselves to us and want to bind their rugby future to us. They look up to their bigger brother.

It’s understandable that New Zealanders have an inferiority complex because little bro New Zealand is deficient in comparison to Australia in so many other areas: weather, population, economy, red wine – so they want to constantly engage their big brother in the one thing they can win for gloating rights, rugby.

They keep inviting us to play them at rugby, and we keep falling for it.

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Australians, on the other hand, grow up in a bigger and better land. We invented Wi-Fi, the flat white, and the pavlova.

We dream of living and working in the USA, Japan, China, UK or Europe, and not in New Zealand. We might have a skiing holiday in Queenstown, or fly over to watch the Wallabies play once in a while, but that’s it.

We would rather go to Bali for our holidays. And when we think about our rugby future we should consider the bigger economies too. They are our natural partners, because NZ’s tiny economy can not sustain our game. In fact, too much rugby with NZ is actually demoralising our sport.

Kiwis keep saying if we want to be the best, we have to play against the best. But that’s just their propaganda spin. It doesn’t work for us anymore.

There’s an elephant in the room. The more we play against New Zealand, the worse it is for Australian rugby. If we continue to engage exclusively with NZ, because of geographic accident, and put all our eggs in their basket, at the exclusion of World Rugby’s other 100 member unions, our game will continue to suffer.

Matt Philip of the Wallabies

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

There no longer seems to be a valid business case in committing to home and away Trans Tasman rugby in 2022. Let’s say ‘no’ to a 2022 of expanded home and away Super Rugby Trans Tasman pain.

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Alternatively, NZR’s arm could be ‘economically twisted’ and their five NZ franchises broken up. Make them dilute their talent and field seven or eight teams against our five. If NZ don’t want to do that, that’s their choice, but in that case – no deal. No tournament.

There’s a big world out there. Rugby union is an international sport. We don’t need New Zealand on the park as much as they need us economically. Instead, our rugby future could be with the bigger economies of Japan and USA. Teams we can beat more often than we lose.

Winning is good for business.

There’s more money in playing Japan and USA too. They have vastly bigger potential TV audiences, and vastly bigger economies. Our game will be in good health if we bind to them.

At Test level, we play the All Blacks three times every year. Fine. Why don’t we play Japan and USA home and away annually?

We could, for example, invite Japan, USA, Argentina, and or Canada, Fiji, or Samoa, to play in A Rugby Championship in Australia (and not invite NZ).

While here for A Rugby Championship, Japan and USA could tour and play our state and territory teams, to help flesh out our fixture list that has less TT fixtures, and see where that takes us.

Yes. We should have a few games against the Kiwis – a grand final between the winner of AU and AOT, or a knock-out SR TT, for example – but not lock ourselves into an expanded home and away tournament that demoralises our rugby public, and diminishes the opportunity to engage with the larger economies of Japan and the USA.

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We also don’t need so much international rugby. Less is more. Let’s invest our efforts in building a solid resilient foundation of Australian rugby schools, clubs, states and territories competitions.

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Australian rugby has Trans Tasman problem but there are solutions. We have options.

Let’s explore our options.

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