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Rob9

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Joined September 2011

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Roar Guru
Roar Guru

Dissecting another Wallabies loss

Well, another Test and another loss for the 2013 Wallabies (sigh). Being the last match of the southern hemisphere’s Test season I feel compelled to put my thoughts down about our most recent failure to cleanse myself before we try our luck up north.

Roar Guru
Roar Guru

International eligibility: Cleaning up the mess

After looking back at international eligibility issues that made frequent appearances in rugby headlines around the world, and putting poaching under the microscope by identifying the negative side effects of the practice, it’s time to clean up the international eligibility mess.

A to D it is Geoff. Just to be clear on your 2 points from my end; Firstly, I’m not suggesting rugby salaries will grow to anything like soccer salaries. Nor am I inferring that’s what your belief is either. I’m simply suggesting the meteoric rise that’s got them to this point is history now. I’d expect a far more measured approach to this moving forward which will make it somewhat easier for the Southern Hemisphere to keep up if it can get it’s game together (I again refer to the Super Rugby model not representing the SH’s capacity to ‘get it’s game together’). Next and finally, I’m totally aware of the force associated with the ‘collective power’ which has also contributed to the meteoric rise of Northern Hemisphere club rugby and effectively underpins the entire SANZAAR model. Again, I would put it to you that the PRL and LNR have done an incredible job of leveraging this phenomena. They’ve certainly done a better job of going closer to reaching its full potential than we have down here imo.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

And yes there’s the broadcast deal which greatly determines how much further owners may be willing to open their pockets. But the current deal lasts until 2021 and globally we’re entering a period of enormous uncertainty with sports consumption. I wouldn’t necessarily be banking on the theory that the value of this going to go up considerably.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

All over how these clubs operate in this regard, Geoff. I just think it’s not worth getting carried away and painting the threat of these leagues to be something that it’s not. Yes, they’ve got an edge on what we can serve up down here and they always will. But again, rugby is not soccer and our professional game is far more a product of market forces than the open cheque book reality that exists in soccer. Wages won’t continue to balloon at a frightening pace and unfortunately for players, our game simply isn’t in a position to allow them to. Unlike the truly global beast of soccer which seems to have no ceiling, the rugby market as considerably smaller and easier to define and there is a very real cap on what players can draw as an income. We’ve probably found that for now, may be even gone slightly beyond it which is what the rhetoric in these articles suggests. There’s been a period of strong growth as the game has begun to realize the possibilities that come with professionalism, however the climate now seems to be focused more on sustainability. Of course there will be ongoing growth in all aspects of the game, but for the sustainability of the clubs and the fact that we now have a more mature and defined market, I don’t believe it won’t occur at leaps and bounds as it may have done in the past. This mood amongst the Premiership’s club owners who control the purse string and collectively establish what the game can afford on player wages is certainly reflected in these articles.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

I think we’re effectively gunning for the same thing here Ray. Just to be clear, I’m not exactly suggesting Australia make a straight swap of NZ and SA for the US and Japan (misleading headline that wasn’t my choice). Far from it. I’ve suggested an Australian based league very similar to yours to take the place of the primary focus of our domestic season. Then (assuming the NZ and SA horses have bolted which would be my best guess given we would have pulled out of Super Rugby) we link up for only a small window with Japan and the US in an attempt to go some ways towards supplementing the financial gain we took from our involvement in SR. This would by no means look like what SR currently does and would simply be an 8 week add on to the season. It’s only at this stage that games would be played OS and a few outside friendly time zones.

Why Australia should ditch Super Rugby and embrace Japan and the USA

Karl, you’ve asked a question I’ve given an answer to. I was very careful to put ‘one of’ in there for folk like yourself who know better. Of course this is something that’s completely subjective and really beside the point, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that Sydney at least represents one of a few rugby Mecca’s. The first fact there (home to the largest rugby competition in the world) would suggest
the shock and horror you’ve expressed at ‘Sydney’ and ‘significant rugby city’ being in the same sentence is slightly OTT.

Why Australia should ditch Super Rugby and embrace Japan and the USA

Sorry Geoff, this was a reply to tc and I don’t really have too much more to add. I did have a couple of interesting reads following our exchange. Here’s some links of 2 overlapping articles if you’re interested:
https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/aug/28/premiership-rugby-clubs-join-forces
https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/sport/2018/aug/28/premiership-clubs-finances-sustainability
Note these quotes from 1 of the 2 billionaire owners in the Premiership (there you go tc… turns out there’s more than 1):
“Sustainability has to be the goal because no one can last for ever,” and “Bristol is not profitable: the club was within a gnat’s whisker of going out of business when I took over and it has to become sustainable because I do not want to wish my life away.”
Reading these two articles, there’s a definite tone that out of control wages have become somewhat of a problem for that league. I don’t believe much has changed in the 6 months since these were written.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

Not perhaps, Andy. The Trans Tasman model is what we pushed for with NZ at the last negotiations. Pulver said as much and I 110% agree with you, him and anyone else that believes it is the best scenario for Australian rugby. Unfortunately though, it’s not on the table and I guess (and as you point out) it would only ever be entertained if the SARU pulled out of Super Rugby. Given the current climate, this obviously isn’t beyond the realms of possibility but I think RA would be I’ll-advised to sit on their hands waiting for what could happen. As such, what I’ve proposed here is the best I can come up with for putting Australian rugby on a positive trajectory again. If Tew started flirting a bit though, my preference would change immediately.

Why Australia should ditch Super Rugby and embrace Japan and the USA

Not sure where you’re going with this TNVFS? Is it just a general comment? I’m not sure I’ve made such a comparison between the two? But then again, I’m not sure many would refer to me as a ‘smart rugby person’ so am guessing this goes in the sweeping statement category…

On the topic though, I’d certainly put Japan ahead of the US in rugby hierarchy in basically all measureable forms (on field, infrastructure, visibility, popularity etc). The US is certainly catching up speed though and I think both are worth RA’s attention.

Why Australia should ditch Super Rugby and embrace Japan and the USA

Most of my explanation for this is in the article. The external revenue source supplementing Super Rugby withdrawal, engaging the US, Japan etc. Of course none of this is a proven formula and a guaranteed ‘fix’. Just an idea like Super 12 was all those years ago. I also acknowledge the initial difficulties in holding onto those ‘mid tier’ players, being those outside regular Wallaby contention but still established names.

But where I think a concept like this can really be a success and uncover a greater source of revenue that isn’t currently being tapped into is by providing better coverage of our local market. Particularly within the heartlands currently represented by the Reds and especially the Waratahs.

Take a look at Sydney for a minute; it hosts one of the most well participated in competitions anywhere in the world. With a population approaching 6 million, the city is home to more people than 4 of the 10 nations that play in the 6 Nations and Rugby Championship. This population represents almost a quarter of the nation and almost half the population that lives in our rugby states. Yet there is just one lonely professional team that is responsible for representing one of (if not THE) most significant rugby cities in the world. That’s even before uttering a word about the vast expanses of the Sydney basin and the increasingly difficult job people have commuting within it. Do you think the Waratahs could do an adequate job of representing such a region? Shute Shield Grand Finals and some of the larger derby games suggest that the Waratahs penetration of the Sydney landscape these days is really quite shallow. I think more professional teams here will do wonders for taking this tier of the game to more fans and uncovering more again.

Why Australia should ditch Super Rugby and embrace Japan and the USA

Tc, I’m sure you can appreciate the crux of what I’m getting at in this rugby/soccer ownership comparison. Rugby club owners aren’t exactly known for the exorbitant wealth that those in England and other parts of Europe are in the Round ball game. Combined with the point on tradition/prestige, it’s worth questioning how many are in a position and willing to absorb an endless line of financial losses to keep the domestic game where it is let alone pump the rivers further with gold.

As for the next part; all that really is is speculating. I acknowledge that’s my modus operandi here but it’s important to understand that we’re dealing with unknowns and nothing I’ve said really needs ‘correcting’. Rugby’s global growth, particularly in the States is exciting, but let’s get real. It doesn’t translate to an imminent monster worth 100’s of millions of $, threatening the stability of Southern Hemisphere rugby tomorrow. Even for an enormous market like the US, a position akin to this is decades away. Italy is one of the larger markets in Europe, has a proud tradition in rugby and has been embraced by Europe’s big boys for almost 2 decades now. Do you see them as threat to Southern Hemisphere rugby? Hardly. Do you see any other European markets emulating what they have achieved in the game in the next few decades? Unlikely. Do you even think there are any substantial untapped markets that exist in mature rugby strongholds like England and France? I don’t think so.

In rugby circles there seems to be this mentality that we’re sitting at one side of a rainbow with an endless supply of gold waiting for us at the other end. It’s just not the case. We have a great product with exciting potential, but really there are limitations worth remembering.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

The money for the concept in general?

Why Australia should ditch Super Rugby and embrace Japan and the USA

Ralph, I’d argue ITM Cup provides consumers with a more engaging product than Super Rugby yet it’s filled with part timers and no All Blacks. NRC can be a bit more hit and miss but it’s still an entertaining product that’s worth a watch too.

Why Australia should ditch Super Rugby and embrace Japan and the USA

I think we can agree something has to be done here, Geoff. Where we differ is the significance of the perceived threat, whose responsibility it is to attend to the issue and what a potential solution should look like. A pleasure exchanging ideas with you GP.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

My understanding is that both the Premiership and Top14 have only recently signed new TV deals. Interestingly, neither surpass what our local market has achieved for NRL rights. Of course, each league will continue to build their case for these deals to increase (within an environment that is adding new layers for consumption and one that could be to the detriment of what TV deals chip in to the pot) but it’s SANZAAR’s responsibility to establish something that can continue to go toe-to-toe with the big players in Europe. As our other local broadcast deals suggest, if we build something that can effectively engage our market (not achieved in recent variations of Super Rugby), there is capacity to grow our pie down here.

I also find it intersting that you’ve yet to pass comment on the impact to the RWC (a cash cow that nobody can deny) which I’ve introduced on more than one occasion. What if this simply results in shifting wealth from one hand to the other while ripping the meaning out of the games showpiece event? I’m sure you can appreciate the push back from fans over this concept, most of which has centred around this very fact. And it’s fans that will decide what value/meaning they place on whatever WR dish up to us.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

Sheek, I could be wrong here but my understanding is that Unions still have the power to schedule tests outside of ‘World League sanctioned’ matches. That’s a double edge sword. If what you say is true, we’re giving up the only games that tend to engage beyond the devoted Australian-rugby public such as extra tests against the All Black and Boks to play Japan, Fiji etc. The flip-side; if they are free to play extra games, that player burnout factor comes into play and I really hope the players use this opportunity truly find their voice and pull both club leagues and national unions into line.

The other issue with any approach that is calibrated to piling eggs into the Test basket is that the health of the game in each respective nation has a deeper connection to the performance of the national team. We’ve seen that dynamic at play in Australia and it’s resulted in the game retreating at a drastic pace as the Wallabies have continued to spiral. The test landscape must act as the cream on top… not become the whole sundae. The cherry is our quadrennial World Cup. This proposal is milking all of that dry imo.

I’m happy to be proven wrong in all of this. Take a look back through my comments regarding the evolution of Super Rugby over the last 7 or 8 years where SANZAAR’s decision making has been driven by what broadcasters want and I have made some pretty dire predictions; most of which seem to have come to fruition unfortunately.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

In the scheme of the big rugby jig-saw, I certainly don’t think we in those smaller rugby markets simply sit on our hands and watch the tide of players head out to sea. Action is needed and I certainly think more can be achieved at a local level (both regional, hemispheric and domestic) to put ourselves in a stronger position and shape up to those leagues in the north. As I wrote in an article that was just posted yesterday, I believe Super Rugby is doing an appalling job of looking after our interests in this regard and our fan and player bases (and therefore our finances) are suffering as a result.

For mine, World Rugby trying to solve this problem that exists for those of us that don’t reside either side of the channel is the square peg/round hole attempt at a solution. The club and national balance is an interesting one and I don’t think the right approach is an attempted power play to wrestle control. World Rugby, the national unions and the club leagues must work together- not try and drown another party out. I know this landscape is problematic and the task of dealing with one, let alone two powerful leagues is a true minefield- but the answer doesn’t lie with a big whacking stick. The reality is rugby needs strong Test and club landscapes for the game to grow and reach its full potential. I agree, I don’t think clubs are out to do the game evil and I think most recognise the value that comes with a successful Test tier for growing the game and therefore their share of the pie.

They need to get back to the table and push out a way forward together. The players voice also needs to be heard and the result of this for a contact game the likes of rugby is that both test and club commitments probably need to pump the brakes a bit. There’s value to be found in the ‘less is more’ approach and establishing a balanced global season that ensures the best are made available and are presenting in peak condition whenever dressed in club or national colours.

If a broadcaster is ready and willing to shell out considerably more for something that has effectively always been valued at much lower price- good luck to World Rugby. Just be ready for the fallout when things fail to go to plan because the stakes involve seriously devaluing the games showpiece event that has become the greatest money-earner available to World Rugby.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

Have to agree to disagree, mate. Obviously each club owner is its own individual entity, but there’s already evidence of some pulling their purse strings. Are rugby’s millionaire owners (note; not billionaire owners) prepared to roll with an endless line of losses? Do the rugby clubs in Europe have a comparable level of tradition and prestige as their soccer counterparts for owners to blindly lose money hand over fist? Do these European rugby clubs represent anything like the behemoth brands with global pulling power that further fuels the desires of these owners to associate their empires with them? I feel the answer to these questions is ‘no’ which makes this an apple and oranges comparison.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

Geoff, of course the all mighty $ is a HUGE driver in professional sport. But is it not worth running things through the lenses of sustainability and longevity? Yes this great cow has appeared presenting an udder to tug on, but is there much substance to it? On the surface to me, it doesn’t look like it. I can’t understand how x has always been valued at y and when x is slightly repackaged it’s all of a sudden valued at z (a heck of a lot more than y). So when this dawns on the broadcaster, what are we left with? A Rugby World Cup that the game’s administrators have effectively cannibalized is my read.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

Geoff, I‘m not disputing the purpose driving WR towards a World League. I just don’t think a power play and cash grab to supposedly put certain club leagues in their place is a suitable justification for a decision of such enormity. And I think the power and clubs willingness to throw cash around is being overstated here. As you’ve quite rightly pointed out, clubs are living well beyond their means. A funny thing about people with money is that they tend to not like losing it. In the long run, market forces will be the overwhelming factor in determining what clubs spend. If anything, I’d expect a period of correction and for this to pull back.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

Geoff, I think you’ve stumbled across one of the more significant flaws associated with a World League in your article. That being; it’s not really all that different to what we have now. Yet suddenly, broadcasters are supposedly ready to throw the kitchen sink at it now. That may be true, but I think when the numbers start rolling in, they will have quite dramatically overstated its value.

WR’s catch cry with this is that every game will have ‘meaning’. I’m sorry, but you can dress this pig up which ever way you want- a test against the All Blacks, England, Boks etc will always have the same value. As will a test against a team ranked around 10 to 12 in the world.

As for the other driver of officially knowing who is top dog in world rugby on an annual basis, it’s not a question I think fans really need answering. Hopefully World Rugby is now getting a sense of that with the concept being pulled apart by a good chunk of fans (what %, I don’t know but more than a few). Let the mystery continue to surround that question as it’s a great point of discussion between world cups (even though the answer has been pretty straight forward throughout history bar an outside claim here and there). And this time we have to wait between world cups is it’s currency that makes them so valuable. Nothing could devalue them more than a concept like a World League. If we parents decide our bank accounts can handle Christmas every 3 months, do you think the one in December will lose some of its shine?

A World League is what happens when you put broadcast $ at the helm of your decision making. You’d have thought World Rugby would have learnt a lesson about that when looking at a little case study in our neck of the woods.

The Wrap: Dark clouds gather again around Super Rugby and the World League

I hear you KCOL. Australian rugby is truly a complex and fickled beast made of up lots of agendas and moving parts. Change in such an environment isn’t easily implemented.

Of course we need external buy in when forging new relationships and working together on new concepts. Who knows what these league’s administrators would say to an approach from RA. But if we need to shift our focus to new regional partners, these two are definitely worth an approach to find out. If we snag a working relationship with one, great! If we get a timeline to work towards, just as good. Who knows, we may even just get interest from both. And given the realities of these leagues and what I propose, I can’t see too many barriers for their inclusion in such an idea. But again, who knows?

Why Australia should ditch Super Rugby and embrace Japan and the USA

Thanks KCOL! And thank you for perfectly interpreting the intent that is at the core of my long winded musings.

Numbers and locations of teams is a footnote. The primary purpose here is building something that better fits the unique and individual needs of the Australian landscape. Yes, I’ve carried forward the logical choices that I believe best represent this landscape, but you could argue for a team in Tasmania for all I care and the primary focus remains a national competition that better serves and grows our fan base and pathways.

Furthermore, an offshore revenue source is another requirement to supplement the withdrawal from Super Rugby while ensuring we’re able to build a domestic structure that’s able to hold onto at least a squads worth of our best and is somewhat comparable to the big boys of world rugby. Again, that source could come from Timbuktu for all I care- the main point is we need something. The US and Japan is just one idea given the reluctance of our old SANZAR partners to engage in something that better meets our needs.

With the passing of time and lack of action, the problems rugby has in Australia are now more defined then ever. That’s obviously not ideal but it does paint a clearer picture of the solution required. The intricate details are up for debate, but what’s not is the desperate need for drastic change to survive and hopefully flourish.

Why Australia should ditch Super Rugby and embrace Japan and the USA

I can’t speak for MLR. I’d just urge RA to look seriously at whatever options exist outside the SANZAAR bubble and MLR is definitely a door worth knocking on. And a ‘Pacific Champions League’ concept is hardly obtrusive when looking at the objectives you’ve outlined. Played in just an 8-week window with anywhere between 4 to 7 games (depending on how deep their teams go into finals) by no means represents the centerpiece of a season which is kind of the whole point. It’s just a side offering to bump up coffers, and in the case of the MLR expose their fans and players to other rugby strongholds.

In my opinion, nothing about what you’ve outlined (much of which is what appears to be on the horizon such as conference-free SR) goes anywhere close to addressing the real issues facing the game here. I’ll concede the jury is out on GRR, but I certainly can’t visualize it being any sort of white knight that will bring masses to the game. The only positive is that it keeps the West (which RA have effectively turned their back on) hanging on by a thread. But domestic professional teams split across 2 separate competitions isn’t an engaging landscape for fans. It’s not having great success in the Republic and while we’re talking a different code and set of issues altogether, it still reeks of Super League (not a path any sport should be aspiring to tread). Couple GRR along side an SR competition devoid of one of the only ingredient RA (the ARU) successfully pushed for in recent SANZAAR negotiations (more national derbies), and we’re still effectively where we are…. stuck in the mud.

Why Australia should ditch Super Rugby and embrace Japan and the USA

Something along these lines, absolutely. But there doesn’t appear to be a desire to head in this direction with our SANZAAR partners.

Why Australia should ditch Super Rugby and embrace Japan and the USA

Appreciate your thoughts Sheek. I’ll draw you back to 2 points from the article in response; firstly, we’re not exactly ‘abandoning’ our SANZAAR partners under this model. As briefly mentioned, my ideal structure involves maintaining our relationship on the domestic front. But to date, there seems to be very little support for something that represents a sustainable and productive model reflective of Australian interests. To NZ and SA readers, I can see how you’ve made your own compromises too. It’s just that our market puts us in the most precarious position where the impact of these compromises is felt the greatest. Hence the greatest need to ‘detach’ from the SANZAAR mothership. Secondly, I fully understand the stress our player resource system would go through by cutting these ties. I’m under no illusions, this would lead to significant numbers of our talent relocating north. I’ve attempted to address this in the article and that really is the sole purpose for engaging offshore revenue such as the growing pots that sit in the US and Japan. At some point we have to value growing our local fan and player base which appear to be going backwards at an ever increasing rate under Super Rugby. As mentioned, we stay on the current trajectory and we’ll reach a scenario where there is no playing talent to protect from northern hemisphere bank accounts.

Why Australia should ditch Super Rugby and embrace Japan and the USA