The Growden Report
Australia should have only three Super Rugby teams
Greg Growden
April 13, 2015
The Waratahs were disappointing against the Stormers (Australia only)

The Wallabies have slumped to sixth in the world rankings. The Australian Sevens team was beaten by Portugal in Japan and faces a tough road to qualify for next year's Olympic tournament. Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has been widely slagged off in New Zealand for making a half-time visit to the referee's room during a Waratahs match. The Kiwis - such masters of the Wallabies psych-out - will pound Cheika all year. And the Australian Rugby Union is facing the serious threat of "explosive" evidence being made public during the court case involving former business manager Di Patston, which is scheduled for June. Amazing scenes loom!

At the halfway mark of the Super Rugby tournament, Australian teams hold four of the bottom six spots, following a dreadful weekend when not one could boast a victory. Instead the Brumbies, Waratahs, Force and Reds were all left wondering what went wrong in a round where there were no local derbies, and so no chance of camouflaging a long-festering sore. Luckily for the Rebels, they had the bye making them the only Australian team finishing the round with some sort of reputation intact.

No wonder in such trying times, high-ranking ARU officials are making as many public appearances as Lord Lucan. In the corridors of power at the ARU there is absolutely nothing they can brag about at the moment. So best to hide away and avoid uttering any more silly statements, such as predicting three Australian teams would make this year's Super Rugby finals.

It was one of those demoralising weekends where the lack of depth in Australian rugby was brutally exposed, emphasising that five provinces have stretched the limited resources too far. Five Australian teams is too many. Australia should only have three.

The Australian teams are fielding too many players who are well short of the required standard, which has led to a drop in match quality and crowd interest. Such is the folly of SANZAR expansion. And it will only get worse when it is pushed out to 18 teams next season. A diluted product will be weakened even further.

Super Rugby was best when it was Super 12. Australia had three teams where there was real competition for spots; Test combinations were cultivated, while the level of performance was intense and often inspired.

Nowadays you're lucky to get one or two good games per round, with the rest marred by the inability of sub-standard players to make their mark and referees bogged down by the most confusing book ever written - "The Laws of Rugby". Having even more Super Rugby teams and fixtures is hardly going to help.

The coaching fear of losing has also seen numerous teams opt for negative tactics, relying on the referee's whistle in the opposition half to get them home.

So you hardly see capacity crowds anywhere - especially at Australian games, which is not surprising when you have the Waratahs sitting in 10th spot, the Rebels 11th, the Force second-last and the Reds last. And the Brumbies' aspirations of being Australia's leading light have been marred by numerous crucial injuries, including the loss of playmaker Matt Toomua and form prop Scott Sio for at least a month.

Smelling salts, anyone?

Israel Folau has been sighted "only in the past few weeks" © Getty Images
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The biggest disappointment remains the Waratahs, who seem to have forgotten they are actually defending champions. Their greatest fault is that so many of their supposed superstars have done little or nothing: Kurtley Beale appears distracted; Jacques Potgieter has not been the aggressor of 2014' Wycliff Palu's impact has been minimal; Will Skelton appears to lack confidence; and it is only in the past few weeks that Israel Folau has been sighted.

Was there any brightness over the weekend?

As far as Wallabies hopes were concerned, the clouds occasionally lifted. And the rays of light came from two Wallabies mainstays.

The most spirited effort among all the losses came from the Reds. They are now bare-bones, well short of talent and spirit, but that did not stop Will Genia from trying to beat the Bulls single-handed. For a short period, it appeared as if he could, especially when he inspired a second-half revival with a courageous solo try followed by a chip through that enabled Nick Frisby to score.

This was Genia at his best, indicating that he remains green-and-gold quality in his last season in Australian Rugby.

David Pocock is similarly showing an eagerness to be part of another Wallabies Rugby World Cup campaign, playing with pride and passion for the Brumbies against the Blues. Pocock's breakdown work, which included five steals, was exceptional.

So while mediocrity reigns elsewhere, Australia has at least two players up to the task. It's not much, but in these trying times it's something. And at the moment, the cash-strapped ARU will take anything they can get.

ARU officials will remain bunkered down though - desperately praying the second half of the Super Rugby competition is better than the first. And their prayers will probably be answered - simply because it appears nigh impossible for it to get any worse.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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