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Australian rugby faces further fracture as New Zealand plan prompts fight for survival

作者:admin 2020-07-21

Australia seems set to adopt an “all for one and one for all” approach to New Zealand’s proposed trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition, demanding all five Australian teams participate. But it remains to be seen for how long a united front can be maintained before self-interest fractures the game in this country yet again.

Rugby Australia hoped a trans-Tasman competition would involve the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises and five Australian sides, including the once exiled Western Force. But New Zealand’s revelation last week that it is planning to create an eight to 10 team competition, including a Pacific Islands franchise, does not add up to five Australian sides taking part.

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It indicates Australia could potentially contribute just two or maybe four teams at best to a new competition, but certainly not five.

New Zealand wants to establish a high-quality competition to prepare Kiwi players for the All Blacks, which is their No 1 priority. In the absence of strong South African opposition due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Kiwis would not wish to carry any non-competitive Australian teams.

As it did at the start of Super Rugby in 1996 Australia is still capable of providing three highly-competitive teams, but not four or five, and the Kiwis know it. They do not want Australia to drag them down.

Australian rugby figures have expressed moral outrage at New Zealand’s stance. But why would New Zealand agree to five Australian teams taking part when three years ago RA and four Super Rugby franchises decided to axe the Force because Australia could not support five sides?

The Super Rugby franchise are still debating under their breath whether there is actually sufficient quality player depth in Australia to support five teams. If the Australians are not certain, why would the Kiwis be?

The depletion of Australia’s playing stocks could become even greater if RA is unable to secure a lucrative, new broadcast deal, which looks increasingly unlikely, to prevent a mass exodus overseas.

RA is talking about approaching South African and Argentinian players to play in Australia and even re-locating an entire South African team. This is fanciful. The best South African and Argentinian players will find jobs in Europe and Japan. Australia certainly would not be able to pay them market value.

Perhaps Force benefactor Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest could dig deep and bring some top quality Australian players back from overseas, but the mining magnate’s recent $5m injection in Western Australian grassroots rugby may be a much more valuable investment for the game long-term.

New Zealand acknowledged its current five-team Super Rugby Aotearoa competition would be unsustainable beyond this year. RA will be hoping the Kiwis come around to the view that they need Australia as much as Australia needs them.

The harsh reality is Australia needs New Zealand more than New Zealand needs Australia, but Australia still has something to offer.

Some commentators have described proponents of three Australian Super Rugby teams – such as Eddie Jones and Ben Darwin –as “high performance purists”. High-performance realists is the more likely description. If RA’s goal is to win, the focus should be on high performance and the rest will follow.

What do you do with the team, or teams, that miss out on the trans-Tasman competition? If the three original Australian franchises – the Brumbies, Reds and Waratahs – were admitted, the two expansion franchises, the Force and Melbourne Rebels, could play in Forrest’s Global Rapid Rugby.

Better still, RA could attempt to include the Force and the Rebels in New Zealand’s National Provincial Championship and create a promotion and relegation system to the trans-Tasman competition.

That way the Force and Rebels could be kept in the Australian system, raise the standard of their play and create a genuine pathway towards five competitive Australian Super Rugby franchises. There could also be some commercial benefits to New Zealand’s provincial unions tapping into two large Australian markets.

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It is understandable that Australian rugby would not want to tear itself apart again by axing one or more of the five teams currently playing in the domestic Super Rugby AU competition. But New Zealand has done RA a favour by seemingly by-passing the national union and appealing directly to individual provincial unions to submit expressions of interest to participate in the new competition. New Zealand will issue the invitations. What happens if they only offer two or three?

RA seems committed to standing firm on five Australian teams, but it will only take one side to waver and that house of cards will come crashing down. As soon as the Australian teams are convinced there will not be room for five sides in the new competition they are likely to begin to fight among themselves to ensure they do not miss out and that could be costly.

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