Australia needs its own domestic competition, but that doesn’t mean it should leave Super Rugby.
The lack of domestic competition is a structural deficiency that limits the development of Australia’s playing and coaching resources. In the examples below we will follow the hypothetical careers of two players, one from Australia and the other from New Zealand. For the purposes of this article they’re the same age and have the same level of talent.
Both players have the potential to be international representatives and are identified in high school.
At the age of 18 they are both associated with Super Rugby clubs and embark on the journey to professional rugby.
In New Zealand the first Super Rugby season is spent learning. Game time is limited to a couple of 15-minute spells off the bench in the second half of the season. There is extensive mentoring by senior players and coaches on how to develop in the professional environment and their position.
The second half of the year is devoted to the National Provincial Championship, and the player is a regular starter. By the end of the year he has participated in 12 games and has been in the professional environment for 36 weeks.
His second year sees him get more game time at the Super Rugby level and even some starting opportunities. The second NPC season has full game time. By the end of the second year he has been involved in 33 games and has been a professional for 72 weeks.
By the time his third year starts he’s an established starter in both Super Rugby and NPC. Fast forward to his fifth year and our player is 23 years old, has accumulated over 110 Super Rugby or NPC games and has been in a professional coaching environment for around 180 weeks.
Meanwhile, in Australia the young player starts out in a similar fashion, with limited playing involvement in his first year. At the end of the season he goes back to his club and is lucky to meet the game requirements to play in the club finals. Due to the season schedule he is in a coached environment for 24 weeks and has involvement in ten games.
His second year sees more game time in Super Rugby and the same brief club window. He has accumulated 17 game involvements and 48 weeks of coaching.
Roll forward to his fifth year and he’s now a regular starter and has accumulated 90 games and 120 weeks of coaching. This assumes that the club makes the final in most years.
Note that there is a growing discrepancy in experience between the two systems. Also note that there is a difference in quality. NPC operates at a much higher level than premier club rugby. In July 2021 the force played Bay of Plenty. This was an end-of-season game for the Force and a preseason game for BOP. The final score in the game was 24-19 to the Force.
Now cast your mind wider to view the potential to accumulate experience and expertise across the whole rugby environment. In New Zealand people can move from club to NPC, Super Rugby or NPC or from Super Rugby to international rugby. Depending on your skill, ability and desire, there are pathways to a full year of footy. In Australia it is Super Rugby to the tag end of club rugby or to the international arena.
So I put it to you that Australia does need its own domestic competition but not at the expense of involvement in Super Rugby. Unless the proposed domestic Super Rugby competition runs for around 25 games, it will simply entrench the structural deficiency that currently exists.
A final note on tribalism. It needs to start somewhere. If the ARC had continued, the organisations involved would now be 15 years old. Would that have been long enough for people to become invested?