Going to watch the Waratahs at Allianz Stadium is a soulless experience, and by and large has been for most of the last 10 years – at the very last.
Devoid of atmosphere and largely silent the ground must hold little fear for visiting teams. The situation was even more dreary at ANZ Stadium, where there were regularly thousands of empty seats.
AMMI Park in Melbourne suffers the same condition for the Rebels, as the Reds have declined in recent years so too have crowd numbers, and the Brumbies are far from jamming them in.
Taking home Super Rugby matches to smaller, more intimate, grounds, may create a more intimidating atmospheres for Australian teams, and develop tighter bonds between the franchises and their supporters.
This weekend could have been a test case for the Waratahs, had NSW Rugby been willing to sacrifice “home advantage” against the Auckland Blues, to ensure the Moore Park pitch is in the best possible condition for the A League final, and move the game to North Sydney Oval.
Clearly such a move at this stage would be logistically challenging. However, the numbers of supporters who are going to turn up to the A League final is likely to be several thousand (potentially tens of thousands) more fans (another issue that rugby needs to address), possibly making the soccer match a more valuable proposition for the SCG Trust.
North Sydney Oval also provides a great venue for sport, although the facilities may not be as luxurious for players, sponsors or supporters.
Smaller venues can generate a tribalism amongst supporters that fuel their teams. Think the 10,000 capacity of Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow, or the 18,500 RDS Arena in Dublin, or the infamous fortress of Thomson Park (which has lost its edge somewhat since its capacity was expanded to 26,000). Teams don’t enjoy visiting these grounds, and the home teams thrive on the atmosphere generated by supporters who feel a connection to them.
Given the crowd sizes attending Super Rugby matches in Australia it might be worth considering moving the Tahs and Reds to smaller stadia, such as North Sydney Oval or Ballymore. They can always play bigger games in a larger ground – Saracens have played big home games at Wembley, and Leinster play the home leg of their derby against Munster, and at least one European pool game a season, at Landsdowne Road, to cater for demand from supporters.