Australian rugby: how do we escape the mire?
October 23, 2013
Greg Growden offers common-sense solutions to save Australian rugby © ESPNscrum with Getty Images
These days Australian rugby continually cries poor: they are well down the international pecking order; the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) repeatedly states it is in a financial mess (with the new regime blaming the old regime for all its woes); and interest in the game has dropped off, primarily due to the Wallabies' recent poor form.
Australian rugby has lost its mojo, but Greg Growden has some common-sense, if occasionally radical, ideas to get the code back on track. Today we launch Greg Growden's Manifesto To Save Australian Rugby. Join the discussion by leaving a comment at the foot of the page, or by tweeting Greg Growden @GregGrowden.
Return to ESPNscrum on Thursday, October 24, to read the second installment of Greg's four-point plan to get Australian rugby out of the mire
Less is best: get rid of at least one Australian Super Rugby province
Western Force haven't had much to smile about in eight years © Getty Images
Australian rugby has been having itself on for many years in believing it has the talent and depth to adequately field five provincial teams. Three, yes. Four is pushing it. Five is ridiculous. Super Rugby expansion in Australia has lessened the competitive edge, lowered the general standard of the provincial game, and exposed the weakness of the talent pipeline in this country. The power-base has been diluted.
While three provinces - Queensland Reds, the Brumbies and New South Wales Waratahs - can boast reasonable squads with only the bare minimum of passengers, Melbourne Rebels and Western Force continue to field numerous players who are not up to Super Rugby standard. That turns people off the whole product, and so interest wanes. Also competition for spots at provincial level is hardly cut-throat; often it is a case of who is left standing, and sometimes that's not much.
The tournament was best and at its strongest when it was Super 12: it was simple to understand, and there was a fair playing field. Australia had three teams during that time, and even then sometimes struggled to be competitive. Expansion prompted the arrival of the Force and Rebels - and with it extensive growing pains. The Force now have been in the tournament eight years, without coming close to threatening for a finals spot. That's not good enough. The Rebels, meanwhile, meanwhile have hovered near the bottom in each of their three seasons. Both teams are perpetual also-rans, and there are no signs this is going to change in the near future, or that they are going to produce a wealth of Wallabies.
Now we constantly hear both the Force and Rebels are in financial trouble and need propping up by the ARU, which moans endlessly about lack of funds; perhaps the union can ease the pressure on its finances by getting rid of one of them. This will undoubtedly cause uproar, but ARU officials do keep talking about "playing hard ball".
The ARU can alleviate some of the pain by relocating the Brumbies to Melbourne. I can hear all those ACT diehards screaming in unison, but ARU officials have considered this idea for many years - going back to the late 1990s - so the Brumbies should never feel entirely safe in Canberra, especially if the national union wants to persist with the Melbourne experiment. And it appears some ARU officials are getting desperate.
Queensland Reds became Australia's second champions in 2011 © Getty Images
Nowadays, Super Rugby involves conferences, which confuses many punters, and teams don't play everyone else. The competition draw, and which teams you miss in your fixture, is now all-important. It shouldn't be. Everyone should play everyone else. If you don't, it is not a pure tournament. Also each country is guaranteed one team in the final. Again an unfair playing field, pandering to the weak.
Even more ludicrous is the fact that South Africa are demanding six Super Rugby teams - and will get the extra side. That only makes the tournament even more unappealing to Australians, most of whom struggle to know the name of at least two South African sides; as for where their home base is, good luck.
Restriction not expansion is the way for Super Rugby to regain respectability.
Thursday, October 24: forget about all these airy-fairy third-tier competition ideas …
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