Since SANZAAR and the ARU announced that Australian rugby will lose one of its Super Rugby franchises columnists and commentators have been pondering the options.
As the weeks have past talk of a merger between the Melbourne Rebels and the ACT Brumbies has gained traction. With a Rebels/Western Force merger, briefly discussed.
Without wanting to oversimplify things, the argument is that it’s better to have a team split between two cities, and maintain rugby’s presence in both locations, than risk losing the supporter base and interest in the sport that the Rebels and Force have developed in Melbourne and Perth. The Rebels/Brumbies merger may well be the “least bad” solution, and in professional rugby it wouldn’t be the first. Welsh rugby has four professional teams, the Cardiff Blues and the Llanelli Scarlets, and the merged entities of the Neath/Swansea Ospreys and the Newport/Gwent Dragons, who play in the Pro 12, which comprises teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
Both the Ospreys and Dragons were founded in 2003, when the Welsh Rugby Union decided to adopt a regional team, instead of traditional clubs, and they have had varying degrees of success.
The Ospreys have been regular challengers for the league title, winning it on four occasions, and have are frequently bulk suppliers to the Welsh national team. However, the last 14 years have not been without their challenges, particularly financially – although the Ospreys’ fiscal status has improved in recent seasons.
After two top four performances in its first two seasons the Dragons have not been overly successful on the pitch, and from the moment they were founded have struggled financially, and have recently sold their Rodney Parade home ground to the Welsh Rugby Union.
While the Dragons and Ospreys have shown it is possible for merged teams to survive, and in the case of the Ospreys, be a successful on field entity, a fifth regional team was established in 2003, merging two traditional powerhouse clubs of Welsh rugby, rivals, Bridgend and Pontypridd, to form the Celtic Warriors.
The Warriors struggled to win over supporters from the two old foes, and folded after a single season.
If the ARU opts revise its plan to cull either the Force or Rebels, and form a merged franchise combining two existing teams, there are lessons to be learned from the Welsh experience, and NSW and Waratahs chief executive, Andrew Hore, could provide valuable support, having held the same position at the Ospreys.