The problem facing Australian rugby
WORDS BY HARRY LICENCE
There is no doubt that Australian Rugby is in crisis. The decimation of our super rugby teams this season, the dwindling viewership and now the axing of the Western Force all point to a code that is quickly losing its relevance in Australia.
Rugby union is often criticised for its East coast, private school dominated player and viewer base. This group of people, known for their conservatism and adherence to tradition have reacted to the problem of Australian rugby as expected, with a narrow minded and ‘traditional’ solution. However, tradition often lends itself to obsolescence.
The question of what to do about Australian rugby’s dwindling financial situation was met with only two possible solutions. Either cut the Melbourne Rebels, or cut the Western Force. Both clubs have massive potential and an established player and fan-base. Nobody wins from the cutting of either team. Similarly, the decision as to which team was to be cut was not based on merit or potential but on the fact that the Victorian government was able to secure a $20 million support package.
What the ARU failed to consider were more creative decisions in order to preserve as much of the player and fan-base as possible. Principle on this list of creative solutions was the suggestion to merge the Melbourne Rebels and ACT Brumbies, creating ‘The Southern Brumbies’. Playing every second home game in either Melbourne or Canberra, this combined team would provide three important things. Firstly, a relatively seamless transition for fans to continue following their team. While Rebels fans may feel disenfranchised, the Rebels were already struggling for popularity against more popular NRL and AFL franchises. Melbourne Rugby Union die-hards would have made the switch.
Secondly, this combined Southern Brumbies side helps to deal with the issue of Australian Super Rugby’s depleted player depth. Too many teams and not enough talent has led to Australia’s super rugby teams being dominated by the Kiwis. Combining two teams allows for the chance to create a more dominant side rather than two watered down Aussie sides filled with schoolboy prospects who are yet to be blooded by club rugby. A more dominant side means more wins. More wins means more happy fans. More happy fans means more viewers. Win, win, win.
Finally, the cutting of the Force leaves a huge hole for the development of Western Australian Rugby. If a kid from Melbourne is good enough, it is not a massive disruption for them to move to Canberra or Sydney to trial at Super Rugby. However, leaving the entire Western half of Australia without a Super Rugby side disenfranchises both players and fans who want to get into the sport.
The Western Force are still fighting for their spot in the competition, but with their likely demise and the loss of players to overseas clubs and fans to other sports, The ARU needs to look to the future and how they can be more creative with solutions. Whether that be revamping the club rugby system or just blatantly stealing whatever it is New Zealand does, just as long as we don’t get a Tasmanian team.
Anyway, I can’t wait to watch the boys get thrashed in the Bledisloe.