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PapanuiPirate

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Joined February 2015

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Rabid Canterbury, Crusaders and All Black supporter currently based in Sydney. Active player in the Sydney subbies rugby competition.

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Bit rough on the old WD there mate….

The Wrap: Super Rugby and the art of being ready when you’re not ready

Jez, Some clubs are doing fantastically well while the competition itself is barely hanging on. Again using Subbies as an example, there are 1st division clubs that are running 5 or 6 grade sides and 2 colts. That’s the thick-end of 100 players at a single club. Other clubs are having to drop off grades because they can’t fill the player numbers required, and that is an issue that seems to be growing year on year.

Amateur senior rugby has deep roots but may wither on the vine

Cheers Muzz,

Every competition has it’s own foibles. My memories of club rugby in New Zealand are littered with too many examples of blokes playing when they shouldn’t through injury due to a sense of duty to the club. Also NZ Club rugby has a much stronger connection to the local population, given the position of Rugby in NZ society. Amateur rugby in Australia is very isolated, which also tends to lead to rather warped views about acceptable practices.

These cultural issues need to be managed on a club by club basis, and clubs that manage them well stand a good chance of survival. My concern is the connection between amateur rugby as a whole given the focus of the games governing bodies on managing the professional game.

Amateur senior rugby has deep roots but may wither on the vine

Thanks Geoff, and thank you for sparking a topic that felt worthy talking about.

Look if SAR dies because the players and volunteers aren’t there anymore, despite strong central support, then that is its destiny. My concern is that from where I sit, the vast bulk of rugby supporters in the country are current or former participants, with SAR participants making up a fair slice of that demographic. With the way things are currently, in 20 years amateur rugby will be reduced to a rump, leaving a lot of proud, bitter and angry rugby people that RA needs to keep onside in order to grow the fanbase.

I just don’t don’t see the leadership at a national or state level. Most of the competitions battle on by the goodwill of unpaid local administrators.

Honestly I think that best approach might be to carve the amateur game off from the state unions and RA and create a national affiliated union but that might be a bridge too far.

Amateur senior rugby has deep roots but may wither on the vine

Thanks for the response Sheek,

The trouble with rugby as opposed to soccer is the barrier to entry. When you look at other major contact sports, your examples of League and NFL being prime examples, these are hugely physically demanding games which don’t lend themselves to the amateur player. Its only rugby’s history as an amateur sport, and the resulting benefits of the amateur club environment, that created the right conditions for the amateur game today.

As I understand it there is a strong club scene for Aussie Rules, which is a physically demanding sport, but I don’t know if it’s well run or is well supported centrally.

As for where amateur rugby sits in the overall structure? Frankly it doesn’t and it shouldn’t. There is a specific philosophical gap between amateur and professional sport and that should remain. There is a very small trickle between amateur and semi-pro competitions (i.e. Sydney Subbies and Shute Shield) but it’s incidental. The key point is that amateurs tend to be the most invested fans, the ones you need to keep onside, and part of keeping them onside is supporting the amateur game.

Amateur senior rugby has deep roots but may wither on the vine

Points for using dilettante in context.

The Wrap: What’s the real lowdown with grassroots rugby? Part Two

League does okay. Most League supporters I know never played or only had a tenuous relationship to participation.

Rugby is a bit of a freak in terms of how so many supporters are players especially given the massive barriers to actually playing when you stop and think about it. The closest in similarity would be Soccer but it’s an exceptionally easy game to play.

The Wrap: What’s the real lowdown with grassroots rugby? Part Two

I think because, rightly or wrongly, these people tend to consider themselves the “owners” of the game. They tend to be the most interested and most invested and so they want their views and circumstances reflected.

Also when playing is becoming harder because you are more time poor, it costs more money and you struggle to get a team together you start to think maybe the code is dying around you and you expect the administration to do something about it.

The Wrap: What’s the real lowdown with grassroots rugby? Part Two

Sometimes all you need is lip service and keeping up appearances. Let’s face facts, the competitions largely run themselves and there isn’t a whole RA can actually do beyond make more money so they can stop charging admin fees and increase grants.

But people need to know they are being considered, that they are part of the plan and they aren’t forgotten.

The Wrap: What’s the real lowdown with grassroots rugby? Part Two

Bit of unbridled positivity on Raelene’s part there, as well as maybe a bit of lack of knowledge of the top end of the game.

It’s a good point though, it’s not just that you are communicating, it’s what you are communicating too.

The Wrap: What’s the real lowdown with grassroots rugby? Part Two

TWAS I don’t disagree with the model, but there’s no guarantee that will happen.

How do you expect amateurs to react when they are asked to pay more but already feel unloved?

Where in all the strategies and participation plan and annual reports is there an inkling that RA remembers there is a senior amateur game?

The Wrap: What’s the real lowdown with grassroots rugby? Part Two

I agree with both of you. The cultural change regarding engagement is certainly improving and overall I really think Raelene Castle is slowly righting the ship. The shift away from the “jobs for the boys” culture has been especially welcome.

The Wrap: What’s the real lowdown with grassroots rugby? Part Two

“The local unions couldn’t run competitions without coaching courses, referees courses and a lot of universal infrastructure that RA provide. Passing the cost on to the attendees ignores the fact that all registered players get the benefit of this, and if the attendees cover all the cost it would discourage attendance.”

This is a fair point TWAS, though all those Course are all still user pays anyway, clubs tend to pay for their members to do coaching or refs courses. The extent to which these courses is subsidised by RA is opaque, so tough to say whether or not these costs need to be further ameliorated through levies.

The state unions administer the local competitions through local unions and I believe their level on involvement varies wildly by state and competition. NSWRU are very involved at premiership level for example and help administer player payments, mediate coaching and player movements etc. contrast this to the amateur country level where they are two steps removed and seem to have not contact with the clubs at all.

I think the crux of what we are both getting at here is that there are consistency and transparency issues which engender a level of distrust in the administration structure.

The Wrap: What’s the real lowdown with grassroots rugby? Part Two

“You need some central admin. Every sport has it”

This is true to the extent there is central admin. All of the central admin in most rugby competitions rolls back to the local unions, with some moving up to the state union. From where I stand, RA does not provide enough admin for non-professional senior men’s rugby to warrant $1000 per team, especially given it operated without ANY fee up until 2014 and that fee has increased every year since then. I may be wrong, but if I am then RA should be able to articulate what clubs are receiving in return for paying that levy.

The Wrap: What’s the real lowdown with grassroots rugby? Part Two

“In a perfect world Raelene Castle might pull up a stool at each and every rugby club in the country and engage members face to face – something that would be appreciated and would go a long way to breaking down those barriers. Of course that’s not practical, but that’s the feeling that needs to be found, isn’t it? Where it isn’t ‘us and them’, but how do we all feel about ‘our’ game?”

You hit the nail on there here regarding practicality. The problem for RA, taking the principle of charity seriously, is that they are having to strictly prioritise their efforts where they feel they can get the most bang for their buck. How can they focus on a bunch of grumpy old (and a few not so old) men spread all over the country who have very little tangible impact on the numbers that tell them the game is growing/improving?

I know they’ve said they are putting in a full-time grassroots role, that person needs to have a time allocation for senior rugby and they need to find a way to communicate with senior clubs. All senior rugby clubs are part of a union, so perhaps formal communications with local unions that can be passed on to clubs is a way to do it? What about the occasional townhall? Things to consider, but these communications also have to be communicating SOMETHING. What is RA doing fro senior rugby right now? What are they doing to improve the lot of local clubs and competitions in the short term? Once the short term is sorted then people might start listening to the noises suggesting a brighter future.

The Wrap: What’s the real lowdown with grassroots rugby? Part Two

Insurances are paid for separately so charging additionally for that would be double dipping.

Frankly Rugby Link is largely a one off cost and most of the content is designed for paid coaches. The initial set up should have been a cap-ex cost and any ongoing costs or ROI should be built into course costs.

Taking Sydney Subbies as an example, there is no administration undertaken by the ARU at all. All administration is undertaken internally by thee Suburban Rugby Union, a volunteer affiliate of the NSWRU. The whole thing currently runs at a small operating profit which is about equal to the grant provided by NSW rugby each year. The grant amount given is less than the sum of the money taken by the NSWRU in affiliation fees.

If Clubs and players are receiving any benefit for these cost then those benefits are either so minimal as to be unnoticeable or appallingly communicated.

The Wrap: What’s the real lowdown with grassroots rugby? Part Two

Interesting stuff, thanks Geoff. As a current amateur player this is a subject near and dear to my heart.

I wrote most of this comment yesterday in response to part 1 but I think the issue highlighted here is where the focus of RA’s efforts have been and how little that impacts the people playing amateur or semi-professional rugby at the senior level.

RA have not been good at communicating their success in arresting and even improving the participation rate at the junior level. This is a BIG deal for Rugby’s future in this country as kids playing now are the players and, perhaps even more importantly, the supporters of the future.

The trouble is the fruits of those labours will only be seen in the future and the only immediate benefit will perhaps be more kids wanting to go see professional games. Increases in crowd numbers are great but will only be incremental and the transfer from new rugby playing kids to ticket sales will be a bumpy graph I imagine.

Right now the problem is that NOTHING is being done to support non-professional senior rugby. Why is this the case? probably because amateur and semi-pro rugby just really don’t matter anymore given the metrics RA use to measure the health of the game. This is understandable but is also sad and has a powerful intangible impact on the broader perception of the health of the game. When rugby people lose faith in the administration the game, others believe the game is administered poorly. When rugby people are complaining about rugby dying, people listen and parrot those opinions. By ignoring non-professional senior rugby RA are perpetuating these negative attitudes and these infect the profile of the game.

RA is right to focus on the Wallabies and other international sides as they are the shopfront of the game. They are right to focus on Sevens at it has a wonderful broad appeal, and the success of women’s sevens is an achievement that should be trumpeted.
They are right to focus on juniors because they are the future of the game and for too long Rugby has relied on the private school talent factories, no longer such a production line as other sports have taken hold. Public schools playing rugby is fantastic, more kids playing rugby is brilliant and let’s hope it continues.

But if RA wants to shift the public perception of rugby as a dying code then they need to do something to mollify the loud rugby people, the people who represent the game in private conversations, down at the pub, and who show up to play every Saturday with bad backs and bung knees, and get them on board.

A final note, I do have a bone to pick regarding the comment that non-professional players are subsiding the administrative bodies (and by extension professional contracts) non-professional sides must pay $1000 per team for the the “Team Levy” which goes directly to RA. in NSW there is an addition affiliation fee of some $500 per team which goes to the state union. No services are provided for these costs with insurances paid for separately. What are these fees going towards if they are not being put back into senior non-professional rugby development?

The Wrap: What’s the real lowdown with grassroots rugby? Part Two

Regarding keeping Larkham around, two possibilities. One, Larkham ha a contract and they probably don’t want to/can’t pay him out of that contract. two, with the new focus on on coach development it makes sense to keep a top level, Australian trained coach around to help develop more coaches.

Stephen Larkham sacked as Wallabies assistant coach

Cat, meet pigeons.

Stephen Larkham sacked as Wallabies assistant coach

Jez,
Fardy was the one I was thinking of, debuted for the wallabies at 30? Coleman I would argue had a fairly standard progression for a lock, debuted for the wallabies at 25 after 2 years as a starter at Super level. DHP spent 4 years overseas before coming back and starting to push for an international spot.

It’s the ones that seem to stall in their development in Australia that really bothers me. Jessie Mogg showed a lot of promise but had his confidence crushed. Dave Dennis spent years toiling away and never developing past a certain level then he goes to Exeter and he looks to have come along nicely there. Toomua, Beale, Skelton all these players who left when they appeared to have stalled but then seem to have improved in an environment other that Oz.

Some of this may just be a depth issue, with a lack of competition in a position resulting in players getting complacent but it’s the coaches job to kick them out of those bad habits.

Former Rebels number ten headlines New Zealand Super Rugby squads

Played 1 game off the bench for the U21s. Played amazingly in his first NPC, enough to earn a 2009 EOT spot with the All Blacks back when they always picked a few smokies, but did not impress and spent the next 2 years off the AB’s radar. Spent the years between playing sevens and being a solid but not spectacular player in poor Otago and Highlanders teams.

I very much remember the discussions around him at the time: “good player but probably not international quality”. Both Jamie Joseph and Steve Hansen felt that given the opportunity to grow he would be a world class player, managed him well and look at him now.

The point I was making was that the guy was a good rugby player who had potential, but it took time and good coaching for him to realise it.

Who was the last player, who looked to have the potential to be a really good player given some time, that came good in the Australian environment?

Former Rebels number ten headlines New Zealand Super Rugby squads

James I think you are misrepresenting Piru’s argument as saying Australia look to poach from overseas.

I took Piru as meaning that the Australian approach is generally to expect a talented player to simply appear from the system rather than taking a raw player and improving them over time into a valuable professional player.

From that perspective, and to look at your examples, none of those players are later developers who were given time to grow into their professional stature. Rather they are all players who have excelled at each level on their way up.

A good contrast would be Ben Smith in New Zealand, a player who was often seen as lacking a bit of confidence and not looking like the kind of guy who would be a long term international. coaches worked with him over time and built him up and then he became one of the best fullbacks in the world. This is perhaps unfair speculation, but I think a player like Smith in the Australian system would be ignored for not shining early and would wither rather than flourish.

Former Rebels number ten headlines New Zealand Super Rugby squads

This is a really good point No8!

Certainly the carry can be used as a way to exercise physical domination over your opponent and have a crack at their mentality.

I think you have given me an idea for my next article!

Carrying the team: The current state of the carry into contact

Great piece as always NB!

Of course the week I put out an essay on contact you come in with a much more targetted and riveting piece!

I made the assertion in that piece that the Wallabies rely too much on their props to do the hard work of carrying and those big players often don’t have the dynamism to get on the weak shoulder or the fitness to keep making dominant carries through the game. What is your thinking on props as lynch pin carriers?

The Wallabies forwards need to be accountable and go back to the future for Bledisloe 3

Twiggy is on record with his desire to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians so the shoe fits!

An Indigenous Australian team should be considered for Western Sydney