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'Our talent is spread too thin': Ex-Wallabies captain urges Rugby Australia to cut Super teams

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1st March, 2024
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Former Wallabies captain Phil Kearns has delivered Australian rugby a brutal reality check, saying the cash-strapped code simply doesn’t have enough quality players to field five competitive Super Rugby franchises.

“We have too many teams in Australia, there’s no doubt,” Kearns told The Australian.

“Our talent is spread way too thin. And there are some. I use the term advisedly, ordinary players playing Super Rugby. If you’ve got ordinary players, you get ordinary teams. Which is why we’re not excelling against the New Zealanders.

“Physically our players are probably up to it, certainly the good ones are. But skill wise we’re definitely not there and that’s a function of just we’ve got our talent spread too thin and we are coaching the wrong things.

“The vast majority of our players still come out of New South Wales and Queensland and despite the Rebels being around for, what, 10 years? And the Force is pretty much the same, they’re not producing the quality or volume of players that we need to be competitive.”

Phil Kearns believes there’s not enough talent in Australia to sustain five Super Rugby sides. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Kearns’ comments ahead of Super Rugby’s showpiece event in Melbourne, with the Australian city to host all 12 teams over three days.

The Super Round looms as an early measuring stick for Australia’s team, with the Waratahs, Reds and Brumbies to each play their New Zealand rivals.

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All three Australian sides are outsiders, with the Brumbies perhaps Australia’s best chance of notching a win against the Chiefs on Sunday. The Waratahs are $8 outsiders against Rob Penney’s Crusaders.

The Rebels and Force will also play each other on Friday night, with both sides looking for their maiden win of the season after heavy defeats to the Brumbies and Chiefs respectfully last weekend.

Super Round is also being played in the backdrop of the Rebels falling into voluntary administration in late January, with the cash-strapped franchise given an extra 60 days by the Federal Court to determine their financial situation last month, as they try to avoid going into liquidation.

Although a return to four Australian Super Rugby franchises appears likely, The Australian previously reported that the Brumbies are also at risk of going under and said the game could even return to three teams. Rugby Australia and the Brumbies have refuted that possibility.

Kearns said his preference would be to keep the Brumbies given their deeds on the field.

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“I would probably be erring towards the Brumbies staying in and I say that really from the lens of they’ve shown for a long time that the program to improve players has been well proven,” he said.

Watch every match of Super Rugby Pacific ad-free, live & on demand on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport

Former Wallaby Phil Kearns believes Hamish McLennan (L) was on the right track with trying to reform Australian rugby. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Kearns also hit out at the state unions for their pig-headedness in orchestrating the Queensland-led coup that saw former RA chairman Hamish McLennan ousted late last year. It followed McLennan’s desire for reform, including centralising the game, and his crucial role in bringing back Eddie Jones to coach the Wallabies, which fired spectacularly.

“Here you’ve got again the lunatics trying to run the asylum and we’ve seen that they can’t run things in their own cell, let alone in the asylum,” Kearns said.

“It’s just a farcical situation and Hamish paid the price for their stupidity. Their pride was standing in the way. I thought it was immature.

“I don’t think they had a grasp of the issues and some of the positive things that Hamish had done for the game. They’d had their feelings hurt along the way. Like, who cares? Hamish might have said and done a few things which was a little bit bold – but what do you expect – he’s got a nickname of the ‘Hammer’. Sure the Eddie Jones decision was wrong but many others, including the majority of rugby supporters in Australia, supported the move.”

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The two-time World Cup winner added that Australia’s Super Rugby franchises had to accept the code was broke and urgent action was required to get the game back on track.

“I mean, New South Wales were open minded enough and wise enough to go down the path that they’ve gone there, whereas these people now, the guys from the ACT, we’re now seeing that what they were saying is a total farce,” Kearns said.

“They were all broke. We’ve seen the way that has played out in Victoria. We haven’t seen the others just yet but to put up this bravado when they’re in so much trouble ….was just hopeless.”

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