Australian rugby: Time to rip it up and start over

With one of Australia’s Super Rugby teams set for the chopping block, the “guardians of the game” need to consider if that is the best course of action for a nation that was once the smartest in the code.

Sacrificing one of the expansion teams for the good of the game in Japan and Argentina doesn’t seem like the smartest strategy. Or in the best interests of the game in Australia.

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) needs to reevaluate its priorities or risk losing support from fans who have pumped their hard earned money into the game in Victoria and/or Western Australia. Taking their Super Rugby team (flawed as it may be), is unlikely to boost the game’s popularity in either state, and effectively abandoning the game in whichever state losses its team. You would also assume it would make selling tickets to Test matches even more challenging.

Theories stating that Australia cannot sustain five professional rugby teams, suggest that the ARU just needs to do more to boost player numbers and develop the game to the point when it will be possible to field five competitive teams, that feed a competitive Wallabies side.

Alternatively, the ARU needs to rip up the current structure of Australian rugby and start afresh. This fresh approach could include walking away from Super Rugby to develop a genuinely national tournament with eight to 10 sides. The tournament could use the existing Super teams alongside teams in South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Looking at the Guinness Pro 12 model, where there are teams based in relatively small population centres have developed strong fan bases and academies that produce players who have gone on to represent Ireland, Italy, Wales and Scotland. Why would Hobart, Adelaide and Darwin be any different? Given the lack of a professional football team of any variety in Tasmania and the NT, surely it is worth expanding the game into those areas in particular.

Any new venture costs money, and a national rugby tournament with fully professional teams would undoubtedly need substantial financial backing. But the truth is that ditching either the Melbourne Rebels or the Western Force will not be a cheap solution, given the threats of legal action should either side be culled, and no doubt the side that survives will have strong grounds to seek compensation for loss of potential earnings through sponsorships, given few organisations would be looking to sink their money into a possible sinking ship. 

While a domestic league may see a decline in money coming into rugby, which in turn may make overseas options more attractive to Australian players. However, the money available in the northern hemisphere’s big league is finite, and the attempt to merger Racing 92 and Stade Francais indicates that wealthy benefactors behind these clubs are losing interest in subsidising rugby players’ salaries. 

So keep the franchises and abandon Super Rugby.

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