Not so Super Rugby

Richard Wainwright

Image: Richard Wainwright

Justin Cordi voices his fears for domestic rugby union and discusses trends away from the game.

As a lifelong rugby fan, it takes every fibre of my being to write this; but most Australians care just as much about Rugby Union as they do about the name of the royal baby.

In 2001, 148,000 Australians actively participated in Union. This sat miles behind AFL, NRL and Football, but was still a respectable figure given our comparatively small population.

By 2017, that figure had dropped to 55,000. Union now sits as Australia’s 26th most popular sport, behind the likes of tenpin bowling, badminton, darts and lawn bowls. Don’t get me wrong, lawn bowls gets me on the edge of my seat, but that is, quite frankly, embarrassing for a country that was formerly revered on the world rugby stage. 

2017 also saw the axing of the Western Force – the Super Rugby team based in WA. As the team left the code, so did thousands of loyal supporters and potential future wallabies. The NRL has jumped on the opportunity to tap into the market, increasing the games played in Perth and reportedly accelerating plans for a Western team.

I’d love to write something positive, but the ARU is running out of money, supporters and participants, and it’s showing in results. Australia sits 4th in the World Rugby rankings, behind New Zealand, Ireland and an English team coached by a man sacked by the ARU for crying out loud! In the words of David Campese: “the only thing worse than losing to the poms is helping them beat us”.

Super Rugby is a competition between the New Zealand provinces and international rugby is a chance for the Kiwis to show off. Something needs to change in Australia, and fast. Maybe we need to attract more players from the NRL, maybe (probably) we need fresh people at the top to revamp the brand and attract young people, maybe we just need to start performing on the field, starting with next year’s world cup.

Australian Rugby needs a miracle.

I’ve got my Rosary Beads.

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