Leading up to the new comp starting, it was an ARC slate-o-rama-fest from all journos concerned against this ‘ill-conceived money pit’ that would be the ‘death of Aussie grass-roots rugby’. One round into the ARC, it’s fascinating to watch what’s been happening online (which is all I’ve got up here in the UK – more on that later).
First off, the big name Hacks have gone deathly quiet. Hardly a whisper of anything ARC apart from a few score-line and injury reports, and odd tucked away mentions of early signs of the competitions success. Here’s a few found buried in the SMH (chief ARC nemesis):
“The next surprise was that, despite speculation to the contrary, the game attracted a reasonable crowd. Canberra is a rugby town and officials were pleased with the turnout of 4355.”
“Down 16-3 early in the second half, the home side scored three tries to two in front of a larger than expected crowd of 3547.”
On Planet Rugby:
“ARU Deputy CEO and ARC Commissioner, Matt Carroll said the standard of rugby shown across the four matches was also impressive. Expectations weren’t very high, with officials having budgeted for a crowd attendance average of 2000. The target was exceeded, with the average attendance reported to have been 3508 for the weekend.”
Sounds like good news.
Secondly, I haven’t yet found any blog or forum reaction to the ARC that’s been anything but positive and interested. Being able to see such talent on display outside of super 14’s is definitely attracting attention and everyone’s talking excitedly, although sometimes a little warily, about the new law changes. If anything, rugby supporters seem to be frustrated by the lack of conversation and coverage of the ARC.
So far then, the numbers and the reactions say that people in the ‘real world’ like the ARC. Forget the old club brand loyalties, people want to see quality talent in a decent competition. The new cheesy names they’ll get used to (if they haven’t already).
Which is great, because we sure as hell need this level of competition in Australia. To demonstrate why; this weekend on SkySports (UK Foxtel) there are two Air NZ (NPC) and a Currie Cup game, live. From Australia? Nothing. Ultimately this is because historically there’s been nothing of sufficient, recognised quality to show. For all these years our key southern hemisphere rivals have been marshaling their rising talent in strong, national competitions. What have we had?
Contrary therefore to the naysayers, with the advent of more depth in the Super 14’s and then the ARC as well, I’m excited about the future of Australian rugby. Especially if you look at what we’ve achieved so far, effectively with one arm tied behind our backs. I’d say the sort of money they’ve talked about investing ($7.5m over 3 years) is more than worth it out of the RWC’03 kitty, especially against a certain ex league player’s salary ($6m over 4 years).
Who knows, I might even get to see some of it on the telly one day.