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'We need to accelerate': Waugh admits RA behind schedule on Rebels future as tickets sold to ailing club's Lions clash

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18th March, 2024
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Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh says fans who have brought tickets for the Lions vs Rebels match next year will have footy to watch, even if the Rebels no longer exist.

Tickets to all nine matches, including three Tests, went on sale on Monday, including for the MCG, which will host the second Wallabies clash on July 26.Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium hosts the opening Test and Allianz Stadium in Sydney the third in the historic tour series, first played in 1888.

The Melbourne Rebels are slated to face the Lions on July 22 at Marvel Stadium despite their future being in major doubt, with the club in voluntary administration with huge debts.

Waugh said a match would go ahead even if the Lions faced a different opponent.

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

“While we are working through the Rebels situation, there will be still be a fixture in Melbourne on that date,” Waugh told AAP.

“We’ve talked about a Pasifika game or potentially Australia A or the equivalent so there’s different options but at the moment the plan is to have a Rebels team.”

The Melbourne players and staff are sweating on a RA decision on their future in the Super Rugby Pacific competition.

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Waugh admitted the process was taking longer than he would have liked.

“The sooner we can get to an outcome for 2025 and beyond the better for everyone so we’re working through that,” he said.

“Are we closer? Yes. Are we moving at the speed that we’d like to? Probably not so we need to accelerate that and not just for the fans and those engaged in the sport in Melbourne but for the players and the staff.”

Despite the Wallabies’ dire performance at last year’s World Cup and drop in the world rankings to a historic low of No.10, Waugh was confident of selling out the iconic Melbourne venue for the Test match after positive sales to last year’s Test there against the All Blacks.

Australia have enjoyed success in previous Lions Tests played in Melbourne, with both at the smaller Docklands stadium, now known as Marvel.

“It’s exciting to launch the public ticket sales – we’ve played two Lions Tests in Melbourne, in 2001 and 2013, and won both of those Tests,” Waugh said.

Andy Farrell, Head Coach of the British & Irish Lions poses during the British & Irish Lions Head Coach Announcement for the 2025 Tour to Australia at Howden on January 11, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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“They’ve been the second Tests in those series and in both instances turned the series so really looking forward to bringing the second Test to the MCG.”

The British and Irish Lions – made up of players from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – played behind closed doors on their last tour to South Africa due to COVID-19.

Waugh felt this would contribute to the high demand for tickets.

“We’re expecting 40,000 visitors from the UK to support the Lions for the tour so it’s really exciting,” he said.

“Their supporters missed 2021 in South Africa because of COVID and the supporter base in Australia for the Wallabies is massive, particularly for a Lions series.

Results in the Six Nations have seen Italy leap-frog Australia in the world rankings but Waugh was upbeat about Wallabies winning back disgruntled fans. 

“We’re conscious we’ve got a lot of work to do and where we are right now in March in terms of our world ranking but it’s a long, long time in sport between now and the start of the British and Irish Lions,” he said.

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“It’s a positive start to Super Rugby, and not just the performances of the Australian teams but the way the game’s been played as well … the players are stepping up.”

© AAP

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