Australian Rugby: How To Stop It Failing Upwards - Green and Gold Rugby
Rugby

Australian Rugby: How To Stop It Failing Upwards

Australian Rugby: How To Stop It Failing Upwards

It is 5 May 2018. Brookvale Oval is packed. The fans are on the hill, downing beers, excited to see their Waratahs play their favourite sport: rugby union. The scene looks great on tv again. This is Sydney’s north shore, one of the hot-beds of global rugby. Matt Burke is from here, so too Michael Hooper. Players, mums, and dads are flooding into the ground, many of them after spending all day at schoolboy rugby matches earlier.

Australian Super Rugby teams have lost an incredible 36 straight games against New Zealand teams. But tonight, the ever-resilient Sydney rugby fans are optimistic. The Blues have won two games all year. They are ravaged by injuries. They almost lost to the Sunwolves. Maybe tonight is the night that the drought is broken.

Tonight is not the night. The Waratahs turn in yet another abject performance, with the same underlying problems. There are basic skill errors, too many inexperienced players in the 23, rubbish defence, awful execution, no killer instinct, and terrible discipline. The turnover count is 22-10.

But really, it’s a match of two moments.

Quick note. This article is 7,000 words long. It’s split into 4 parts. It’s worth it. – Ed

Fans pack Brookvale Oval

Early on, a great kick puts Israel Folau deep into the left hand corner as he retrieves the ball. He shifts the pressure with a woeful left-to-right, non spiral pass to Bernard Foley, who in turn gives an even worse left-to-right, non spiral pass to Kurtley Beale. In contact, Beale loses the ball, and it’s an easy try to the Blues.

Not long after, an actually unlucky turnover sees probably the fastest man in World Rugby and 2017 Rookie of the Year, Rieko Ioane, sprint away up field. Shut the gate… or so everyone except Cameron Clark, a new inclusion in the Waratah line-up, thought. Clark chases down Ioane and executes an incredible try-saving tackle. It’s a moment of true world class on an evening where nothing else but the camaraderie on the hill is. The only man more impressive than Clark on the night is his dad, Greg Clark, who displays remarkable self-control in his commentating upstairs.

Australian rugby fans feel like they’re in an abusive relationship. Just when they watch three Wallabies offer up a series of errors that would look bad at club level, a young rookie flies in and produces just enough promise, just enough of a reminder of how good rugby can be, to keep them coming back.

This article is an effort to take a longer perspective on the crisis of Australian rugby and what to do about it.

I’ll make my case up front for the TL;DR crowd: We have to improve on-field performance, which above all means a profound, full-scale change in the business model underpinning professional rugby in Australia. This will require honesty and openness from administrators, a quantum leap in thinking about the future of rugby in Australia, a re-evaluation of the assumptions that have underpinned two decades of professionalisation here, and a new deal that everyone can get behind, from players to fans.

Reform is not enough. We need a revolution.

Crucially, however, we need to segment our thinking, because what appears as one inter-related mess is actually not.

Let’s be clear on this: not everything in Australian rugby is going badly.

  1. The women’s sevens team is the best in the world.
  2. The men’s outfit looks nothing like it did four years ago. It has built a distinctive, defense-based(!) style. It recruits and develops quality specialised players. And it’s firmly entrenched in the top echelon on the World Series.
  3. Australia is out ahead of many of its peers in women’s rugby generally and in identifying the importance of female fans to the game. The inaugural Super W tournament was a huge success.
  4. The National Rugby Championship has provided a credible third tier to bridge the gap between club rugby and Super Rugby, despite many naysayers saying it was a huge waste of time and money.
  5. Club rugby has never been healthier.
  6. Many schools have introduced near-professional level coaching, which has resulted in a sharp increase in the quality of schoolboy rugby and players coming out with some understanding of what will be required at the next level.
  7. At the top, the Wallabies have been very up and down, it’s true. But they were incredibly close to winning the Bledisloe Cup last year and probably should have done so.
  8. At all levels of Australian rugby, there has been a dramatic re-emphasis of the scrum and maul. What was a chronic weakness as recently as five years ago is now something of a strength.
  9. The off-field image has remained good too. Australian rugby players don’t get caught screwing in airport bathrooms (Aaron Smith), or having affairs in hotels on the road (Jerome Kaino), or hooting and hollering at every opponent’s mistake like an Australian cricket team member (Aaron Smith, again), or running drug rings (AFL), or running more drug rings (rugby league), or cheating (cricket), or getting involved in outright fraud to stay afloat (Parramatta Eels). Nobody is getting continually prosecuted for rape and murder (the NFL and college football).
    Sure, Nick Phipps pees on a bar on his bucks’ night, dressed as a cow. But he apologises to the pub the next day and brings his family in for lunch. By and large, it’s all pretty tame, which is a good thing.

At the same time, Super Rugby results have collapsed. Fan morale is low. Trust between administrators and supporters is non-existent. Players are leaving en masse. Media coverage sucks, stuck in a relentlessly negative narrative (when they talk about rugby at all).

What is really scary is how precarious it all is. Australian rugby is dependent on about half-a-dozen elite players, any of whom could be injured, or leave, at any moment. Some are close to retirement, including Sekope Kepu, who against all odds has developed into one of Australia’s best ever props, if not the best. The international player depth is incredibly thin, particularly in the halves. On the 2013 spring tour, the Wallabies went down to hooker number 7. A couple of injuries in the halves this year, and the Wallabies would be simply incapable of competing at Tier 1 level.

We are at a crossroads. The situation is dire. But the problems are distinct, so let’s look at them in turn.

Hands on hips for the Waratahs

Hands on hips for the Waratahs

1. On-Field

What is most concerning about watching Australia Super Rugby teams is simply the lack of basic skills.

Sure, there was the Israel-Bernard-Kurtley comedy of errors versus the Blues. But we have a Brumbies 10-12 combination that can’t create anything. There are photocopies with more originality. The Rebels defend like a club team. Their fullback, Jack Maddocks, managed to twice put his head on the wrong side of the same tackle on the weekend, which I didn’t know was really possible.

Failure keeps getting rewarded. None of these players will be dropped for next week, much less feel like more severe professional consequences are likely.

Rugby Australia is currently paying huge sums to Quade Cooper, a fly-half who never felt like he had to learn how to tackle, because he kept getting picked anyway. The Waratahs star player this year is Taqele Naiyaravoro, who is a great tackle buster, but can’t kick, can’t pass, can’t tackle, has poor ball security, and doesn’t know the rules. The list goes on. Because of a lack of competition, player drain, and the dearth of experienced players (more on all these later), players keep failing upwards.

Of course, it’s not just players either. Nathan Grey coached a Waratahs defence last year that conceded 522 points, or 35 points per match! How on earth can a team hope to give their opponent a 35 point head start and not feel that they are under immense pressure to score every time they get the ball? Any normal metric would have seen Grey fired from the Waratahs; instead he failed upwards and was the Wallaby Defence coach.

The Head Coach last year, Daryl Gibson, managed to coach Australia’s best funded, most resourced team to just four wins and third-last place (in a tournament with three teams finding their feet in just their second year). He kept his job too.

Nathan Grey and Daryl Gibson – still there

The trend is the same at the highest level. In 2016, the Wallabies lost away tests against an Irish team so ravaged by injuries they had a scrum half on the wing, and a South African side that was almost entirely devoid of creativity and cohesion. Last year (2017), they lost at home to Scotland, were rubbish against Italy, and drew twice against a very average South African side too. Oh, and they lost five times across both years to England.

There are guys receiving Wallaby jerseys who are not, and never will be, Tier 1 test level players. It’s just that simple.

We’ll come to why this trend of failing upwards and this lack of accountability have taken root in a bit.

But the most easily solved problem on the field is the lack of smarts. The Wallabies are many things, but nobody would describe them as a smart team. It’s brawn over brain every time, and Ireland, Scotland, and England feast on that predictability. Rugby is, fundamentally, a dialectic. It’s a struggle between two forces. Yet Australia regularly turn up looking as though they have either done no research on their opponent or, rather, don’t care what that opponent is going to do. They play largely the same way against every team, which is just dumb. They look to get into their patterns with the ball and then run their training ground options. That’s it.

Two weeks ago, former player, coach, and current commentator Rod Kafer, one of the smartest minds in Australian rugby, made much publicised comments about the Brumbies failing to adapt their game plan to what was in front of them: a Crusaders team with two men in the sin bin.

“We talk about heads up rugby and having an understanding of how we want to play, yet we’re not a country who wants to play heads up rugby,” Kafer said. “We want to go to structure, we hear our people talk about it all the time, structure, structure, structure. It’s not working for us.”

Kafer is spot on. On Saturday, the Waratahs ran two mauls in the first half, resulting in an easy penalty and a try. Instead of learning from what was happening, they went back to the plan: the bounce-out plays that they use in practice to tie up forwards and give ball to their backs. At half-time, someone obviously said something. Mauls early in the second half yielded more penalties and huge yardage gains. And then, the maul got shelved again.

Frankly, the Blues had so much trouble with the Waratah maul, and the Waratahs were so poor in open play, they should have been opting for the maul over and over again. To win at rugby, you have to be willing to change plans in light of new information. That’s central to playing smart.

If you really hate life, watch the five Wallaby games against England over the last two years back to back. It’s the same match. The team learned nothing. A more adaptable coach would have noticed that Eddie Jones’ England have zero interest in playing with the ball in their own 40, that they love structure, that they love contestable midfield kicks, and they feast on opponents’ ill-discipline. He or she might then have deduced that Australia’s chances of winning were good if they (respectively) forced England to play from their own area a lot, played an unstructured game, picked a back three based on their ability in the air, and contested less at the breakdown, thereby reducing the penalty count.

Up the guts and into ‘em. The Cheika style didn’t work against England

We saw none of that. Over and over again. Australia’s solution to failing at their brand of fast-paced, ball-in-hand rugby, we were told, was more fitness, more speed, more ball in hand. It’s the same mantra, regardless of the question. No wonder fans are exasperated.

This addiction to sticking to your patterns has infected the Super Rugby teams. All play a variation of the 1-3-3-1 system. They all look alike. Spread the ball wide, then back to a pod of three forwards. Reload and repeat. Opponents know exactly what they are going to get. It’s fine to have a foundation if you build something on top of it that offers room for creativity and incision—just ask England in the opposition’s 22. But defences are just too good for you to give them hours in the video room watching your structure and then replicate that picture on the field.

Currently, Australian teams offer structure in attack and unpredictability in defence, rather than unpredictability in attack and structure in defence.

This over-reliance on structure rather than letting players play what is in front of them is closely linked to a lack of experience. As Brumbies coach Dan McKellar noted after the same Crusaders’ game, his 15 on the field had about 20 Super Rugby caps per player between them (just over one season, including replacement appearances). That’s a fair comment too. The same weekend, Leicester’s starting fifteen had about 70 caps per player between them.

So what is going on and where have all the experienced players gone?

170904 Matt Toomua

Matt Toomua – probably not coming back to Australian rugby

2. The Rugby Market

The short answer is: largely overseas.

The most important factor in the decline of Australian (and South African) rugby has been the rapidly accelerating player drain over the last five years or so. No sooner are Australian players finding their feet in Super Rugby than they now look abroad. That experience is lost to the team. Over just the last couple of years, the Brumbies alone have lost Scott Fardy, Jarrad Butler, Jordan Smiler, Nic White, Matt Toomua, Joe Tomane, Ben Mowen, and Jesse Mogg. I’m probably missing someone; it’s hard to keep up. Half the starting team. Most are Wallabies.

Players are leaving in their prime. Even mid-way through last year, the conventional wisdom about Sean McMahon was that he probably would never quite have a key role at test level. He played like a ball-running 8, but at roughly 100kg, didn’t have the size. He wasn’t tall enough to be a key lineout winner. His technique over the ball wasn’t good enough to be the jackal 7 either. But McMahon went from strength to strength. His breakout match, in a breakout year, was his huge performance in Bledisloe III in Brisbane. He was best on ground, busting tackles with huge runs in the last 20 minutes.

That was also his last match on Australian soil before he signed on to a two-year deal to play rugby in Japan, a level no better than a good club game. He is 23.

Sean is hardly alone. At the end of 2013, a watershed moment took place when the Wallaby captain, Ben Mowen, left the team to go play in France. How can you have a team leader who not only doesn’t want to be the leader, but doesn’t even want to be in the team? Why should fans turn up at Stadium Australia when the captain doesn’t even want to be there?

Rugby Australia needed to make its displeasure known, but it didn’t. When Charles Piutau, the hugely talented All Black back-three man, left shortly afterwards, coach Steve Hansen let every newspaper in the country know what they thought of such a decision. Rugby Australia needs to signal to both players and fans that quitting the team—and that’s what it was—when you’re the Wallaby captain is not ok.

The truth is that Australia does have enough rugby talent to fund four good Super Rugby teams. It just doesn’t have enough for six, and two of those teams are playing overseas.

I’m including recent overseas players too. But what about these line-ups?

Team 1: Greg Holmes, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Mike Alaalatoa, James Horwill, Luke Jones, Ben Mowen, Dave Dennis, Sean McMahon; Nic White, Matt Toomua, Joe Tomane, Matt Giteau, Rob Horne, Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor.

That’s the best Super Rugby team in Australia, on paper, by a long shot.

Let’s try another one:

Team 2: Ollie Hoskins, John Ulugia, Paul Alo-Emile, Hugh Pyle, Will Skelton, Scott Fardy, Liam Gill, Leroy Houston; Nic Stirzaker, Brock James, Alofa Alofa, Berrick Barnes, Peter Betham, Digby Ioane, Drew Mitchell.

Competitive, at the least.

How are teams supposed to be competitive without experienced players? We know that young players develop best alongside experienced ones. That’s why when the All Blacks develop a new hooker, they group him alongside super experienced props. They don’t pick an all rookie front row. Yet that’s what Australian Super Rugby sides are forced to do all the time: have rookies learning off rookies.

Australia’s legacy to the sport is rich. It was us (with the Kiwis) who lobbied hard for the creation of the Rugby World Cup and, later, professionalisation. We dragged northern unions kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Rugby innovations from the flat 10 to extended multi-phase play to bringing wingers into the centre of the park all come largely from Australian rugby. With two World Cups and two finals, we have the second best World Cup record (and before 2015, had the best).

Yet World Rugby has steadfastly refused to create a transfer system that would reimburse clubs for their investment in players lost overseas. World Rugby has refused to impose foreign player quotas on European clubs. World Rugby has refused to extend the residency window for international qualification from a ridiculous three years, with the result that Southern Hemisphere players are able to have their cake and eat it too: head to Europe and end up playing international rugby.¹ Their rugby communities at home get nothing in return.

World Rugby has even, as of this year, removed the ability of countries to name their under 20s team as their “second side”, which means that youngsters invested in and capped at under 20s level can now freely go and play for other countries later. In other words, World Rugby is making it easier, not harder, for countries who haven’t invested in players to buy them later on.

Virimi Vakatawa, a Fijian project player now turning out for France

Consequently, we have a system whereby Southern Hemisphere rugby effectively subsidises the richest entities in World Rugby: cashed-up European clubs. How ridiculous. If the English coach couldn’t work with 30 of his country’s best players because they were playing Super Rugby most of the year, you can bet your last dollar World Rugby would have done something about it.²

World Rugby just doesn’t care about the health of rugby here. It is willing to throw Australia (and South Africa) under the bus.

This isn’t news to many. But it is important to cover because this is the major factor driving our problems here. The fully global market for rugby players (and coaches) is what has changed in the last five to ten years.

Yet we often hear other explanations for where Australian rugby is, and I want to dispel those, specifically that the format of Super Rugby is to blame.

It isn’t really true that Super Rugby has turned into a boondoggle. It’s always been a weird creature, played across multiple time zones, with visiting teams that home fans can’t locate and will never meet a fan from. Kick-offs in South Africa have always been in the middle of the night. Some teams have sucked in any given season. The Lions, Cats, and Cheetahs were awful for years. Even the Hurricanes had a terrible few years. These are all features of the comp, not new developments.

True, the competition has acquired a silly format in which teams with fewer points can finish in a higher ladder position than those with more, and SANZAAR refuses to develop an ability to communicate with fans beyond press releases. I’d venture that 99% of Super Rugby fans can’t name the SANZAAR CEO. (Andy Marinos.)

But these shouldn’t obscure the broader picture.

In fact, the standard of the games this year in Super Rugby is probably as high as it has ever been. (If you don’t agree, have you watched non-Australian matches?) The SA and NZ outfits are both putting on good shows. It’s just us. The key to solving fan engagement in Super Rugby isn’t cutbacks (though that might—might—make sense for other reasons). It is winning.

Whenever Australian sides win, crowd numbers and engagement go up. All four of our teams currently suck. There’s no other way to put it.

The reason for the sharp decline in Super Rugby crowds even as record numbers turn up to club rugby is obvious: the fans don’t want to pay the same—in money, in attention, in emotion—for less.³ The Canberra fans aren’t dumb. They know the 2018 Brumbies are missing half their starting team overseas. It’s the same everywhere. Fans are being asked to feel the same way about a match as five years ago, when the product is worse. If the players won’t commit to Super Rugby, why should the fans? It’s not rocket science.

So, performance increase is vital to the future. What has gone wrong and how can we fix it?


Notes:

1. We hear that the residency requirement will be extended to five years in 2021, but sceptics abound that this will actually happen. Why introduce the measure then, and not now?
2. None of this is to comment on what this is doing to the integrity of international rugby. Currently, no fewer all three countries vying for the last European qualifying spot for the next Rugby World Cup, Spain, Romania, and Belgium, appear to have fielded ineligible players. How World Rugby will resolve this is very much up in the air. One of the countries that might benefit, Germany, has a team full of South Africans whose residency was paid for by one man: corporate titan Hans-Peter Wild. When Wild fell out with the German rugby authorities, he simply pulled all “his” players from games, with the result that Germany, once again, are pretty poor—but might be in the World Cup as the European Steven Bradbury.
3. No doubt the players would say the same: Why should they not go play in Grenoble if the fans won’t turn out? The difference is that the players are an asset for the business, while the fans are the core constituency. Some players often don’t seem to get that: they seem to think that pro rugby exists for them.


Taler Adams lays down the law


Tayler Adams, now at the Melbourne Rebels, got extra gametime in the NRC

3. Development Pathways

In 2015, the Rugby World Cup filled, and overflowed, English rugby coffers. To be sure, there was lots of money to go around.  £443m to be exact. But £190m of it, or 42%, was invested outside the professional game: in infrastructure, community rugby, and coaching.

This was no more than smart practice. A £1m might fund one or two marquee players at international level for a year. The same money, however, might fund five top level coaches, or ten mid-level ones, whose expertise develops the talent of every player they come into contact with. Investment in coaches is critical to creating a system that produces and improves rugby talent over time.

Australia is not doing this. Its finances are heavily skewed towards retaining top players, not development in any form. It spends $3.7m on “community rugby” and 8.4 million on unspecified “high performance and national teams”. (The rest has been outsourced to the state organisations.) Even at the most generous of readings, Australian rugby spends just 9% of its expenditure on development in the very broadest sense. In absolute terms, that’s around 29 times less than England’s massive post-World Cup investment.

The result of a lack of coaching funding and pathways is that Australia’s top-level coaches are terribly inexperienced. Of the four Super Rugby coaches this year, Dave Wessels is in year two as a top-level professional head coach, Daryl Gibson year three, and Brad Thorn and Dan McKellar year one. None has a long and varied pedigree through the coaching ranks.

In New Zealand, Aaron Mauger (Highlanders) has already been head coach at Leicester. Scott Robertson (Crusaders) has been head coach in the NPC (where he served a five year apprenticeship before getting the top job) and for New Zealand Under 20s. Chris Boyd has been an assistant at the Sharks, had a top job in the NPC, and taken the New Zealand Under 20s. Dave Rennie, Colin Cooper, Pat Lam, Tony Brown—all have been on a coaching pathway with plenty of stations before getting to Super Rugby. They’ve had chances to improve, to develop, to cast aside preconceptions—and to fail. Australia’s Super Rugby coaches are failing at the top level.

Let’s return to the theme of investment. Coaches are part of the equation. But the other part is investing in up-skilling players over time. Again, this is not a focus area for Rugby Australia. Australian rugby was terribly slow to realise that the merging of global under 19 and under 21 championships into a single Junior World Championship for under 20 players ten years ago had streamlined player development into just one major channel. Other countries did.

Now that we’ve come late to the party, we are desperate to do something to rectify the situation, without working out what that something should be. Two years ago we didn’t have any centralised mechanism for bridging the gap between schoolboys and the national under 20s side. Last year, it was a domestic comp between the Super Rugby franchises’ under 20 teams. This year, it’s a squad picked early, to give the core group more time together. Next year, we now hear, it will be a new under 19 week-long carnival next year and a squad picked early. Is it any wonder that young players have no faith that the administration knows what it is doing when the plan changes literally every year?

This year, the newly minted “Junior Wallabies” had warm up games against Tonga under 20s (89-7) and Fiji under 20s (51-5), neither of whom have even qualified for this year’s tournament. Who thinks this is meaningful preparation for playing England, France, and Argentina in June?

It’s impossible to know if the new under 19 week-long carnival, which reeks of schoolboy rugby, is actually the best mechanism to filter out the next generation of pro players, or whether it’s just what Rugby Australia has chosen to afford. As usual, RA isn’t providing any transparency whatsoever, just a corporatese-laden press release, with the usual emotion-neutral quote from Relevant Person X (in this case, Under 20s coach Jason Gilmore) parachuted in. This is how RA engages with its core constituency: fans.

On an individual level, the list of promising young players who are in no way better players now than when they stepped out of under 20s is a long one. Kyle Godwin, Campbell Magnay, and Chris Feauai-Sautia, to take just a few examples, looked ready to take on the world at age 20, and just haven’t developed since then. In the Sydney Morning Herald recently, journalist Paul Cully made the striking observation that not a single recent under 20s playmaker is starting for a Super Rugby team and most aren’t even in a squad.

The broad solution is fairly obvious: the pool of future professional players needs to be both broader and bolstered with the best.

Campbell Magnay – hasn’t really kicked on

First the broadening: Australian rugby needs to be fully opened up beyond the old networks. That way, selectors would have a stronger idea by year 12 who can hack it at the highest level and who cannot. It is no more than logic.

It’s great to see schools playing more friendlies against out-of-network rivals. But narrow competitions like the GPS and CAS in Sydney aren’t doing the job for Australian rugby any more. They are not helping their boys play at the top level and open up a professional career. Instead, competitions should be state-wide and, realistically, national. Joeys can still play Kings every year. They just also need to play Oakhill, St Edmunds Canberra, and the Southport School, all in competition matches, so selectors can see players under a range of conditions and against diverse opponents. This is what happens in South Africa and New Zealand.

At the same time as opening up the main development pathways to more boys, Rugby Australia should also be looking to bolster the player pool, particularly in the 18-22 age range. Australian rugby has to get smart—there’s that word again. Fifteen years ago, Irish and Scottish rugby was in terrible shape. One big factor that changed that was the overt, shameless recruitment of players who were, or would be, qualified for the home team. Huw Jones, C. J. Stander, Jared Payne, and W. P. Nel were all low-risk signings who have come over and contributed hugely to Celtic rugby.

We have access to two of the great rugby grassroots systems in the world, in New Zealand and South Africa. Masses of people migrate from both to Australia every single year. Adapting is easy.

We should be recruiting from both places relentlessly. The residency system is not a good one (see above). But so long as it’s there, we should be working it. Super Rugby clubs should be empowered and supported to look abroad and sign players on three-year residency contracts if their performances warrant it. The same goes for coaches.

The more accountability that can be introduced into professional rugby, the better for Australian rugby. As it is, too many players are limping into Super Rugby from the under 20s without the requisite skills and with little of the investment in coaching and experience needed to acquire those skills. They are failing upwards.

Raelene Castle and Cameron Clyne

Raelene Castle and Cameron Clyne

4. The Finances

I started this piece by arguing that, to a certain extent, the problems in Australian rugby were distinct. The lack of investment in development is a choice. The addiction to structure is an on-field disease. The evaporation of players and experience is driven by surging external demand.

Now we get to the nub: the finances. If we become much more savvy on the field, invest more in development, convince school networks to break out of the 1960s, and generally upskill our players it won’t mean much if we don’t overhaul the entire business model for rugby in Australia.

To this end, the 2017 Rugby Australia’s annual report, audited by KPMG, is illuminating. A huge government grant for a new, one-off training centre at Moore Park distorts the balance sheet. In any other year, the organisation made a loss of about $5m.

The report reveals a fair bit about the fiscal position of Super Rugby. In 2017, Rugby Australia gave the four operators of the Rebels, Waratahs, Reds, and Brumbies (and not the Force) a total of $39 million. They also spent $25 million on player payments, for a grand total of $64 million. We can assume that Wallaby top-ups fall under “High Performance and National Teams” and thus aren’t included in that figure.

The income from Super Rugby is largely in the form of broadcasting dollars, which total $61 million. But a lot of that comes from televising the Wallabies, rather than Super Rugby.

In other words, Super Rugby is a loss maker, perhaps a substantial one, with or without the Western Force. That’s key point one.

Jaguares and Sunwolves were brought in for TV money

Key point two is that without the 2015 TV deal, which increased Rugby Australia’s broadcasting take by a whopping 148%, the organisation would be deep in the red and with no way out. But the last English rugby deal increased by 80%, even after European games were taken out of the package. The last Top 14 deal gave clubs 200% more than the last.

This is the take-home trend: the global boom in rugby is driving up television revenues, but it is doing so everywhere. And since the European deals are bigger in absolute terms, their buying power will continue to increase and player salaries will continue to escalate quickly. That creates an unsustainable equation for Rugby Australia. Even if the 2020 TV deal is a monster, including increased revenue from Japanese and American broadcasters (a reasonable assumption), still Rugby Australia will be playing a losing game.

We should acknowledge that Rugby Australia is in a really tough spot here. As it sees it, either it funds pathways heavily and lets top players go off to Europe, or they try to retain top players at the expense of pathways. They’ve tried to do a bit of both and it just isn’t working.

Rugby Australia has managed to get itself into a position where it essentially pays for Super Rugby to exist, but doesn’t yield the rewards in terms of long-term Wallaby development. It is Rugby Australia that puts these players in the shop window and develops them to pro standard. When European clubs snap them up, Rugby Australia (and Australian rugby) gets no return on their investment.

It’s not unlike the extraordinary rort in American football player development. It’s super hard to produce an NFL player. You need rare skills, performed at an extremely high intensity, just so. The skills aren’t by and large transferable. But it’s the largely publicly funded college system that produces 23 year old draft day prospects; the NFL then swoops in and snaps them up for its private profit.

Australian rugby, in much the same way, has ended up developing players who then go off to play in France, or England. It’s madness to stay in such an arrangement. More than that: the more Australians we send to Europe, the better the quality of rugby, the more eyeballs on their games, the bigger the TV deals, and the larger the contract for the next Australian player. We are funding our own demise here.

More to the point, rugby.com.au even runs a weekly column advertising what Australian players are doing over in Europe (NB: Nobody cares.) This is completely crazy: Rugby Australia is paying to advertise a rival’s product, one that offers a mortal threat to its own. Who signs off on these decisions? Seriously?

We have to ride the global boom in rugby, not fund it for others’ benefit. It’s that simple.

Tying the organisation to the top players at the expense of development pathways has hollowed out the entire business model. For every player that leaves, the bargaining position of those that remain is strengthened. This has left Rugby Australia is some truly ridiculous positions, including paying David Pocock to not play rugby and then to play rugby for someone else, and to consider offering Michael Hooper a five-year contract, the longest in the world. Quade Cooper is currently playing club rugby, because there was no clause in his contract that stipulated that he actually needed to do his job (ie. play professional rugby) to earn his money. Top players have left to go to Europe… and then Rugby Australia pays them extra to come back home. This is a mug’s game.

He’s back. He came back injured, but he’s back.

At the same time, Rugby Australia’s top-heavy strategy isn’t actually stemming the bleeding. Within two years of the 2011 World Cup, the Wallabies weren’t playing their two best players from that tournament, James O’Connor and Digby Ioane. Right now, in May 2018, Joe Tomane, Matt Toomua, Nic White, Sean McMahon, Ben Mowen, Tatafu Polota-Nau, and Greg Holmes would all walk into the Wallaby squad. Others would be in the picture too. Not having those guys there is a huge head start to give the opposition—and the fans know it.

In short, Rugby Australia is damned if it does or damned if it doesn’t. There just isn’t enough money to do everything, due to the spiralling demand in player wages. Not to belabour the point, but this model simply isn’t sustainable.

There are numerous short-term solutions to be considered. A professional competition that could stand on its own two feet without Rugby Australia needing to subsidise it heavily would be one. That would free up more money for both top players and development.

New contracting measures to recoup the full value of player development investments would be another. The current pay scale already gives Super Rugby franchises a small salary cap discount for long-serving players; this could be increased. Player contracts could be rewritten to tie players better to Australian rugby. KPIs could be introduced to prevent players from failing upwards.

We can also pray that World Rugby begins to understand that current trend lines, without a circuit breaker, are actually unsustainable. After all, European club rugby without Southern Hemisphere players is, well, European club rugby fifteen years ago. They might realise that the golden goose needs to be kept alive for their own model to work.

Another stopgap is to look to new markets. If Japan was so 2015, then it is America that will be all the focus looking to 2020. The pattern will likely be the same. Rugby is the single fastest growing sport in America. Now, Major League Rugby has just started there, so any Super Rugby franchise will suck. For years. But American money might just offer the illusion of safety to cash-strapped Southern Hemisphere unions. As we’ve seen, however, it will likely just be a stay of execution, because the more TV deals increase, the more player salaries increase too. We probably have to plant our flag there just to keep the Europeans out, though that shouldn’t stop us addressing the structural problems we need to turn the business equation around.

But in the long-term the answer is clear: more buying power in Australia. We need it, by hook or by crook. This is where we need to be able to talk about bold, new solutions.

Do we need more like Twiggy?

One option is privatisation. It is nothing short of incredible what Andrew Forrest has been able to do in Western Australia, all overnight. He’s created a hodge-podge competition from scratch. He’s coughed up player salaries and is bankrolling the other teams. He’s got the matches on live free-to-air television. The entire concept sounds ridiculous… but it’s happening. 20,000 turned out for game one (game 31 is a different story, but still).

This is how much of European rugby is funded: as a prestige project, not a profit making enterprise. Opening Super Rugby up to sugar daddies would come with costs, but European soccer and US sports have shown that somehow fan buy-in is rarely diminished by the reality that some rich person, often a foreigner, is using the club as their plaything. Fans are, by and large, ok with that. Put it this way: four or five Andrew Forrests and we have financially stable rugby in Australia. We need to have a conversation about it, at the very least.

Option two: full public ownership. A more romantic, grassroots model is to copy FC Barcelona and allow the fans to own the club. It’s hard to imagine that the Waratahs are worth more than about $20 million, given their continuing cashflow problems and the big question marks over their business. If 50,000 fans each buy a stake, their shares will cost $400 each. The fans would vote for the club president and board. They would, by definition, feel a renewed connection to the team. Shareholders would certainly turn up to see how their team was doing. Shares might even go up in value. Or be given to new babies in the family, in a new tradition. And so on.

It could bring the rugby community right together by actually transforming professional rugby into grassroots rugby. This mechanism would also provide a new basis for club income, an asset for the club to borrow against, and, as in Europe, a prestigious position for rich individuals to run for.

Conclusion

The key to fixing Australian rugby lies in improving on-field rugby. That means we need more money to keep players and coaches in the game, to invest at every rung of the development ladder, and develop a distinctive brand. Managing the international player market is the key to everything, which in turn requires a turn towards either full privatisation or full public ownership.

But we don’t just need the right solutions. We need the right tone. Australian rugby is desperate for leadership and honesty—something fans can’t remember any of. A line needs to be drawn in the sand. A whole new era has to start now. We are at a crisis point because of deep-seated problems in the business of rugby. It’s not all our fault; the player drain to Europe and World Rugby’s refusal to regulate it has a great deal to do with things. But that’s life. A new way of doing everything needs to be announced, and made public. It’s like in a relationship: you can’t fix a problem if you don’t first have the courage to sit down and actually articulate that there is a problem.

The Australian rugby community is screaming out that there is a problem, and Rugby Australia needs to do no more than admit the same, look to actively engage fans, and address their concerns with a cogent, long-term blueprint. Mistakes need to be admitted. Only then can we all move forward together. We all want the same thing: to see the next generation of Mortlocks, and Ellas, and Caslicks, and Pococks inspiring Australian hearts and minds, which they won’t do if they’re playing for clubs in Dublin and Montpellier. We are all waiting for leaders to show us the path to that goal.

  • Will

    What a fantastic article! You have done a great job capturing the challenge at hand. I hope we can fix rugby in this country.

  • Kiap

    Good article. Thank you.

    One point not emphasized, however, to be fair. Going back five years and saying Ben Mowen “the captain doesn’t even want to be there” isn’t quite the full story.

    Mowen was shat on. The ARU didn’t want him there. Certainly not enough to provide any national team salary component to the captain.

    Perhaps like Fardy more recently, they thought Mowen wasn’t worth keeping. He was on piece work while the ARU were funding wastrels on field and off

    John O’Neill himself had taken a half million dollars out of the game when rugby was just about on its knees.

    The rot in Australian rugby starts at the top. And it hasn’t been eradicated yet.

  • qwasimodo

    Amazing article, what I would give for any of these ideas to be implemented. Btw, were people aware that in their 2017 annual report, Rugby Australia rated their performance as 75%? I wish they were marking my work.

    • Huw Tindall

      Classic ploy = set low KPIs/Benchmarks, or ones with favourable weightings, so they are easy to achieve and/pr gloss over particular problems. RA is run by some corporate w@nkers so they employ the same tactics as they do to real companies.

      • qwasimodo

        So their true skill is essentially in polishing turds?

        • Huw Tindall

          And old school tie nepotism

        • Habitual offender

          I have glitter, should I fill out a job app?

    • Bobas

      Must have brought in the finest tafe markers in the state

  • Huw Tindall

    Top article. Well done Jamie. I’d have liked you to have gone further in the discussion around the millstone that is Super Rugby. I’ve been screaming out for a while that our TV deal would still be healthy without Super Rugby. Super provides a large volume of content but it’s love value compared to the 15 or so tests we play each year. I’d really like to know how much of the c.$60m TV deal can be apportioned to Super Rugby? 20%? More? It’s held up as immovable because it brings in so much revenue – I’d like this validated as it is fundamental to any meaningful question on what to do with the busted competition that is Super Rugby in 2018. Who knows, maybe if all Jamie’s suggestions were implemented and we had 4 competitive teams people would be flocking to Super Rugby. I’m not so sure it has over stayed it’s welcome though and now suffers from terminal taint as a brand. And yes, I like the NRC comp if that’s not obvious but at the same time I’m not naive enough to say let’s go it alone without seeing the numbers!

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      So you don’t want Super Rugby and you admit that the NRC and Australia going alone isn’t the solution. Then what is the solution? And please don’t say a Trans-tasman competition. A. it wouldn’t bring in the revenue needed and B. NZ is not interested in this as a replacement for Super Rugby.

      • Huw Tindall

        I don’t have a solution and that’s really my starting point. What I’m trying to do is tease out Jamie’s thinking further and address the more direct question of ‘what to do with Super Rugby?’. I still watch Super Rugby and not just the Aussie games, but I’m not a good example of average punter who we want (need!) to try and attract to rugby. Heck, I’ll watch the tag match in the park if I’m walking the dog!

        One of the salient points in the article is that Super Rugby could in fact be loss making for Australian Rugby so why/how could we stay with the current model? Maybe it is some radical new ownership model although how many millionaires with deep pockets can we find and what would that do to any hope of a more centralized planning and coordination focus in Aussie Rugby which I think we all acknowledge has been lacking? Maybe Super Rugby doesn’t bring as many $$ as we think it does, especially when stacked up against the costs of the comp? 2020 is coming fast and if things continue as they are we won’t have much of a product to sell in the next TV rights offer. As other’s have said who’d want to be in Ralene Castle’s shoes!

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          fair enough mate and to be honest I’m with you in “What the hell do we do with Super Rugby” I just think that Super rugby is a pinacle of what is wrong with rugby here and it needs changing at the lower level bacuse if this isn’t done it won’t matter what Super rugby goes to it’ll still be crap.

        • Andrew Luscombe

          SR is a loss maker for all the nations in it, and always has been. It is a player development league. The national unions fund it to develop and maintain their players for the same reasons that people want grass roots funded.

          All national rugby bodies provide funds to the level below in some way. For example, the English RFU provides many millions of pounds each year to the English Premiership to make eligible players available for the English team, and to keep the promotion/relegation arrangement with the RFU’s national comp.

          Where do the roots end and the grass start? In rugby, it’s at the national teams level.

        • Gun

          We’ve had this discussion before but it seems to me that a comp like the NHL has to be the go. I agree SR isn’t a commercial sports comp but an elite development pathway. If it’s not entertaining, it’s not commercial. The Kiwis play good rugby but they don’t have any market.
          The Canucks have the bulk of the talent but it’s farmed out into a competitive league in N America, not concentrated within their borders for the sake of their national team. If you allowed national eligibility within that proscribed competition you should be able to make it a commercial success.
          Some of LEDs ideas are excellent, particularly the idea of a team in the Euro comps coupled to the payback of development fees.

      • Marlins Tragic

        This Trans Tasman comp may end up being a political decision in both Au & NZ to thwart the Chinese invasion of the pacific.

        The NZ govt already forked out $80k NZ on a study to have a PI team in SR based in Auckland and playing games in Fiji, Tonga & Samoa + Sydney & Auckland.

        More at play here apart from rugby & that is essentially THE most special thing about our code, it can help bind things together in times of trouble.

        http://www.news.com.au/sport/rugby/super-rugby/new-zealand-government-considers-backing-pacific-super-rugby-team/news-story/64b4e716a47657bd110671a4c464cf36

  • mikado

    Superb work Jamie.

    As you put it, “We should acknowledge that Rugby Australia is in a really tough spot here.” Turning up a few sugar daddies would help, and in retrospect I think both RA and Forrest screwed up by failing to hook up two years earlier. Apart from that, others here have pointed out that there are too many competing interests in Aussie rugby. Aussie rugby would benefit from taking a leaf from the NZ or Irish book and subordinating the whole system to RA (or to a national successor organisation if RA is not up to the job).

    • Perth girl

      No screw up by Forrest Mikado, he offered money to RA and they turned it down

      • mikado

        You’d know better than me Perth Girl, but it seemed to me that by the time Forrest offered the money the ARU was already locked in on cutting the Force. If Forrest had offered the support before the Force was even under threat the situation might never have occurred.

        That’s not to criticise Forrest unduly. Clearly he has been extremely generous in his support of rugby.

        • Perth girl

          Is it ev er to late to turn down that sort of money? Forrest did not offer the money earlier as he assumed the process would be fair and transparent. He offered the money when it became obvious it wasnt

        • Bakkies

          Wouldn’t have mattered no one knew apart from the majority of the clowns in the board room that the team to go was voted on in October 2016. The bollocks last year was an expensive charade led by the clown college. They already knew that the Force were voted to be chopped yet paid the Rebels directors money to clear their debts. Ridiculous carry on.

      • Braveheart81

        The money was offered to the Australian Rugby Foundation which would not have been able to be spent on the running of the Super Rugby sides which was the impetus for cutting a team.

        • Perth girl

          Yes the ARU did not want the money to go to grassroots rugby they needed it to throw more good money after bad into super rugby. If they had nt wasted so much money

        • Perth girl

          they would not have been in that position

  • Patrick

    Great article, I agree but most of all with the lack of sufficient development in pathways, lack of sufficient openness to foreign talent and to using foreign players strategically (how much did the Tahs depend on their South African journeyman forward??).

    One point that I would add is that the coaching seems really really shite, you say this but you don’t give it enough emphasis, something is really wrong here. Maybe the need a team psychologist to make Foley into a reliable kicker (or at least point out that he is not one now!) or Hooper into a good captain (or again to tell the coach that he actually isn’t), maybe they need neutral selectors, maybe they just need better coaches, but there is a real problem there.

  • Parker

    Terrific Jamie. RA should have paid you to write this for them and despite their woeful lack of vision, they should at least hire you to amplify and develop the ideas you introduce. But as you point out, the absence, as much in the administration as on the field, of clear and meaningful KPIs (or standards and skill levels as they were called before the business consultants started wordsmithing) means they’ll probably get some puffed up hack who is someone’s mate or relative to do it.There’s a chronic tradition of putting great store in reputation rather than proven track record, brand image rather than quality. That’s the pathway for how administrators and players fail upwards. And because the boosters who oversold the people who get appointed or selected all know the gaps between image and reality exist, they lack confidence. Instead they have bravado. In their hearts, the place where belief should be, they either have shame about the inauthenticity of their position or an attempt to deny it. This lack is what prevents a fair valuation of the quality that you accurately observe as being plundered by the Northern Hemisphere. The circumstance is one where we don’t know what we are worth and sadly this doesn’t apply only to rugby, but our natural resources, land, agricultural output, etc, etc as well. Too often we are the yokel who hands over our gold for a bag of beans hoping that one of them will grow a magic stalk (cos who wouldn’t want a magic stalk!).

    Yes, America is the rugby El Dorado and if we could get our basics sorted and gain confidence, what would be wrong with applying our long experience with rugby to developing subsidiary clubs in the US; applying our expertise to tap the lucrative market there and feed royalties/licensing fees back to Aussie rugby. I know, I know: It will take vision, enterprise, organisation, performance standards, discipline, professionalism and long range execution — all the things that would blow the elbow patches off the tweed jackets and interfere with lifting the next beer. So as you accurately point out, those are the very things we should be working on.

  • redveincheese

    Heres an idea for a start in Queensland at least. Get the most popular player/no.10 in the state that is being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to not to play SR to actually play SR.

    • Bernie Chan

      Most popular player…end of. ‘That’ player attracts more fans on “fan days” than the rest of the squad combined…
      Good piece of work JM…the singular focus on the narrow private school system certainly isn’t helping, and maybe with private ownership or member owned clubs we wouldn’t have the situation as currently exists at the QRU where no administrator from CEO down seems to take responsibility for the repeated SNAFUs afflicting the Reds…?

      • Huw Tindall

        Private ownership would probably torpedo any effort from RA to have a more centralized and coordinated planning approach in Aussie Rugby, which is something I think we all agree has been missing for a while.

        • Bernie Chan

          Fair comment. Not sure how that’d resolve the centralization issue, but it may fix the f-ups at the QRU! Private clubs certainly being problematic in the UK…where the tail wags the dog?

        • Huw Tindall

          Precisely. No easy answers here but I think serious change is required. Desperate times and all that….

        • Bakkies

          Bernie fully audited books by an independent body not Saltbush, a generous salary cap and foreign player restrictions like what occurs in France is the answer. It’s got out of hand in England as that has not been managed which has seen clubs like Sarries and Bath build up heavy debts.

        • disqus_NMXfOrw5ot

          I would like to see either full centralisation like the kiwi model, or full private ownership like the European model. Both seem to work well. I’m not sure we have enough billionaire rugby fans in Oz for the private model though.

          Either way, the current incestuous boys club of the RA and the state boards is the abomination that is destroying rugby in Australia.

        • Bakkies

          Centralisation will never happen now that the RA have shown there idea of centralisation is to cut teams.

      • Winners become popular.

  • bluesfan

    The most important part of this article is around the finances for Rugby in Australia and sadly the solutions are difficult to achieve.

    You suggest Private ownership – well that was tried with the Rebels and failed. You suggest full public ownership – but is there that much interest in Rugby now in Australia to actually achieve a desired outcome – remembering that the Rebels and Brumbies have both had crowds of only 5-6K – and that is a disaster for the clubs based around the income that will be generated from those crowds.

    Financially it’s hard to see how Rugby in Australia will obtain the required $$ to survive as it becomes an ever decreasing circle e.g. with viewing figures down and less games to televise (no Force anymore) – is it achievable to actually increase the next TV Deal – personally think it would be a great result if they just retained their present level of income.

    Maybe one way forward is that the Sth Hemisphere unions go to World Rugby and demand Transfer fees for players relocating North – example is the Brad Shields debacle – NZ has spent large amount of $$ developing the player and next he is signed up to play for Wasps and now England with zero compensation for NZ.

    At least with Transfer fees it will 1) Increase income stream for Rugby Oz to be able to continue to invest into the Rugby community and 2) Become a disincentive to Nth Clubs to continually pillage SA/Oz and NZ Rugby. Because at the current rate – Super rugby is effectively becoming a development competition for the Nth.

    Maybe if SA do go North – then Australia gaining entry into a ITM Cup in NZ with 4-5 teams – which would then effectlivey replicate the NRL in the amount of TV hours you could sell (5 Oz + 10 Kiwi teams) – could generate enough TV Viewing hours that would generate serious $$ from the likes of Foxtel – though you do have to wonder how attractive Southland vs. Hawkes Bay would be to people in Sydney.

    Hopefully someone will find a solution – but at the moment that’s hard to forsee.

    • Fed

      Transfer fees is a good call.
      Totally agree that the watershed moment was Ben Mowen leaving the captaincy of his country to play club in another. As captain he would’ve had more insight into the operation of the joint than most, and leaving illustrates that the benefits of leaving clearly outweighed the benefits of being a Wallaby captain – jawdropping.

      • disqus_NMXfOrw5ot

        Well, Ben Mowen was refused a Wallabies top up payment, so basically given the message that both his captaincy and his position in the team were merely temporary until someone better was found. So in his case, the financial benefits of going to Europe would have vastly outweighed the financial benefit of staying. And sure, there’s the Wallaby captaincy to stay for, but that was clearly temporary, so not really that much of an incentive.

        • Braveheart81

          The coach didn’t see him as a retention priority and didn’t want the rules regarding number of tests required in the last two years to get a top up changed so that Mowen would get one.

        • disqus_NMXfOrw5ot

          Yup.

    • Bakkies

      ‘You suggest full public ownership – but is there that much interest in Rugby now in Australia to actually achieve a desired outcome – ‘

      Well the Own the Force campaign had more than a few million raised however it had to be closed down as the RA wound up the operations.

    • If the clubs are hived off from their current serf-like relationship to RA, not every club would necessarily have to have the same ownership model. In England (and France I believe) most or all clubs are privately owned with a sugar daddy, in effect. But if you look at the British Football leagues, you have a mixture from some teams that are publicly owned (floated on the stock exchange and all), some that are privately owned, and some in the lower leagues that are basically owned by the fans in a grassroots type deal. I believe in the NFL most of them have a sugar daddy, but the Green Bay Packers are owned by the fans.

      Under the English model, the RFU certainly puts some money back into the clubs, but the Aviva Premiership signs its own sponsorship deal (Aviva is a big insurance firm in the UK) and that money doesn’t go through the RFU, it goes straight to the clubs, or rather to the league that the clubs organise and run. Likewise, many if not all the clubs have financial backing from their sugar daddies and so on. I don’t know the current details but a few years ago Gloucester’s then owner handed his interest in the club on to someone else. He was retiring and felt he could no longer afford “the £2-3 million each year to keep the club running” ($2.6-3.4M).

      There is a LOT wrong with the English (and French) model of rugby. They strongly, strongly emphasise club above country. France to the point that their national players are called to play for the clubs in the “rest” weekends in the Six Nations and some of them end up injured during those matches, wrecking the squad even further… but in terms of generating money for and by the clubs and tribal loyalty it works well.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Great article Jamie. I feel though that you only briefly touched on the most critical part of the equation over here which is the structure of the rugby administration and leadership. The states hold RA to ransome through thier power games and with the structure of the RA board there’s nothing that anyone at RA can do about it. There’s no accountability for the State organisations when they limit their search for coaches to the back parking lot and no accountability for RA when they allow the coach and management of the teams to continually reward players who don’t deliver.

    I’ve said this yesterday but I firmly believe that the catalyst for change in NZ was the failure at the 1/4 finals of the RWC in Wales. For years the nobs in charge with no accountability and an old boys network had made decisions on coaches, administrators and development that were not working. There had been a large number of demands for change that had fallen on deaf ears but this incident finally produced the environment where the old boys were sacked, attitudes changed, the structure and governence changed and results started to happen.

    I actually feel for the next wallaby coach reagrdless as to whether the required changes are put in place as he or she is going to inherit a team that is disfunctional with players who have been allowed to perform poorly for years but still be picked, a structure that looks after states before national, wild dispareties between the players from different states with different loyalties and a cutlure that has players first and the team second. To be honest I see this going backwards a long way before it styarts moving forward again.

    • Greg

      I don’t want to think about how much further back we can go @kiwirugbylover:disqus

      • Kiwi rugby lover

        Nor do I mate but I fear that unless there are some major changes in how rugby is run in this country we will.

    • I’ve only just had the time to read the whole article but I think you’ve put your finger on what I think was missing. I didn’t disagree with anything Jamie wrote but while he touched on it with the “lack of consequences for playing poorly” I think there’s a bit of a superstar culture that has the players putting themselves first and not thinking about the team.

      A game of rugby benefits from those flashes – to look at the All Blacks a minute, imagine they’re playing South Africa so you can just enjoy the skill – what fan of the game doesn’t thrill when Beauden Barrett pulls off one of those little kicks, regathers in one hand and sprints away to score a try, when Ben Smith takes a poor kick looks at the chase and arcs off in a smooth run to score, or when Read charges down the sideline and produces one of those crazy offloads to a supporting player? At the same time, whenever they’re doing that, how often are their teammates there to support them and take the offload, or are those star names there, defying fatigue (and in Read’s case the years now) to support another player who is making that run, be they a 50 cap established name or a rookie? How pleased do the whole team look whether it’s a spectacular try the world will remember for years or a grinding pick-and-go, 20 phases inside the 5 metre line? Whether it’s a try to sneak a victory at the end of a close match, or the 10th try in a blowout victory that wasn’t a contest since the 5th minute?

      I didn’t pick all those examples to make everyone more depressed but to make us all think a minute. We can all bring them to mind easily. With ALL of the elements. But if you think of Folau taking a loose kick and running it back for a try – also easy enough – my impression is always of him alone, celebrating HIS achievement. I’m sure that’s unfair. In fact, having written that I can think of one with Beale hugging him and looking happy. But it’s harder to think of the support runners with Folau, with a winger, even when a forward makes a break. It’s harder to think of the cluster of happy faces after the tries in the Wallaby shirts. Not a good culture.

      I wonder, I mean I know it’s their job, but pretty much every other rugby player you see, unless they’re being thrashed on the pitch, looks like they enjoy playing the game. They might be devastated by a loss but they look like the actually like being a rugby player. The Aussie players the ones that expect to pull on the gold shirt, they don’t give that impression. It makes me wonder why, where it went wrong.

  • Gareth

    You smashed it Jamie

  • Greg

    Great article. Thanks.

    Perhaps email a copy to the RA board?

    Whilst this is the most articulate and comprehensive article that I have read recently…. many here are expressing the same concerns and supporting similar ideas.

    I am sure it is more complicated than i understand but something needs to change.

    • Huw Tindall

      Not enough corporate cliche speak in the article. They wouldn’t understand it.

  • Thanks for writing this Jamie.

    It’s a cogent summary of the primary issues for Australian rugby. I think some comment on the composition of the RA and the profound failure of every member of the board is worth considering should you edit this.

    The need for centralization of Australian SR teams for player and coaching pathways is also worth considering.

  • John Yeoman

    Got to his 9 points and had to stop reading…
    Points 1&3 are about women’s rugby which will never generate money so who cares.
    Points 2&4 are just plain false
    Point 5 he can have as there are no metrics so I can’t be proven or disproven. Although I would like to point out Penrith were just kicked out of the comp due to lack of numbers/being rubbish.
    Point 6 we have beaten the NZ school boys team I think it is twice in the last 23 attempts. It may only be once. I didn’t see this years result.
    Point 7… just no… we weren’t close to winning the bledisloe. NZ played terribly and still won.
    Point 8 All the focus on scrummaging and Paddy Ryan is still a professional footballer? Seems this focus is having great effect.
    Point 9 there are no off field dramas? Izzy is hating on gays on a fortnightly basis… for all I know so is Cameron Clark but who knows because no one would recognize any of the players off field as they aren’t seeing them on field to know they are pseudo famous.

    There are a lot of shit articles about how to fix Rugby flying around and this has to be right up near the top of the pile.

    • Hugh Cavill

      So what’s your answer John – how do we fix the issues?

      • John Yeoman

        Take Wallaby players off contracts and put them on match payments. League do it already and as such don’t have to give Pocock a million dollars to not play.
        There you go I just saved $1million for grass roots football

        • LED

          And so we just lose more players overseas – you’ve solved nothing at all. Nothing changes longer term, we keep losing by bigger and bigger margins. But you saved $1m. Apparently.

        • Hoss

          Great points mate – people are all so quick to say ‘if we don’t spend $X we have saved it’ – bullshit, whats the opportunity cost of NOT spending $X’ in this case on the best Wallaby of the last decade signing somewhere else for example – that would sure as shit cost RA more than a million in lost revenue – let alone the investment in Poey over the last decade – its insurance and money well spent.

        • John Yeoman

          They are still being paid match payments which can be increased accordingly. The $1 million dollars is saved by not paying players to not play.
          Right now Israel Falou et al. are getting monthly checks from cheques from the ARU to be wallabies. How many test have they played in the last month? Dealing with idiots here.

        • Hugh Cavill

          So what if a player gets injured? They don’t get paid? League don’t do it at all, they are all on contracts too.

          Any player would be mad to go into a game where salaries are tied to matches played.

        • John Yeoman

          They are still on contract to super 15 clubs. And yes if you get injured for the test season you don’t get paid. Rugby League do not have a single player contracted to the Australian Rugby League team. It is match payments only.
          If a player does get injured they should be smart enough to have income insurance to cover this.

        • Braveheart81

          It is also a very different situation. They generate the bulk of their income from playing NRL. The Wallabies play 14-15 tests a season and are where the top players generate the bulk of their income. The biggest reason we lose the next best players overseas who aren’t on a top up is they can get a similar or greater salary guaranteed that they would need to play every test in the season to earn.

          Income security is a big deal for people playing professional sport with a limited career span and a high rate of serious injuries.

        • qwasimodo

          That’s it? So we lose more high quality players overseas because we offer them less and we don’t do anything about the lack of quality coming through. Our teams continue to get worse and there is subsequently less money for them.

        • John Yeoman

          They still get contracted to a super rugby team.
          They are only paid by the wallabies if they are good enough to make the match day 23. With all players off contract the players could get up to $100k test.

        • qwasimodo

          The article addresses the issue of pocock and cooper. It’s clearly not acceptable that we are paying them to not play. But it’s ludicrous to think that offering worse deals to our best players is going to fix anything. I think that should happen anyway btw, I think we need to focus on lower levels and make sure that we have some sort of structure in place before we waste money on short term solutions or league converts. But the article deals with many of the specific financial and on-field difficulties encapsulated in Australian rugby atm. Why dismiss it?

        • John Yeoman

          The players that would get the same or better deals from the super rugby teams.
          They would get larger match payments for the games they play.
          The blokes who wouldn’t get paid by the wallabies are the ones who aren’t playing for the wallabies… what about this aren’t you getting?

        • qwasimodo

          The gaping holes in it I guess. You are offering worse deals for the top players. Players want security, not single payments based on their fitness. We would lose some of our best players that way. Also, you wouldn’t save much money. You still have to pay for a whole squad, not just the match 23, otherwise you don’t have players for training. That would cut maybe 5-10 of the lesser salary top-ups, but then you would be paying more each time in order to make the match payments attractive. Then, how does this address super rugby at all and where does your extra money come from to make ‘same or better deals from the super rugby teams.’ You pretty arrogantly dismissed the article and called everyone idiots, but your idea is flawed and simplistic.

    • Andy Thompson

      “Points 1&3 are about women’s rugby which will never generate money so who cares”

      We are gifted with an opportunity to take a huge chunk of the female sports market. Do you know what team everyone wanted to see the most at the recent Commonwealth Games? The Australian Women’s team. Women’s rugby is growing and growing and to dismiss it because it “will never generate money” is downright disgusting. It’s views like this that make me think some supporters don’t care about the game outside of their little bubble.

      • John Yeoman

        So the game is going broke and your answer is to funnel more money into an area of the game that will generate no return… Let the women play as amateurs (just like the men did for 50 years) and when the sponsorship and fans are there then you can look at paying them as professionals.

        • Habitual offender

          So it would be fair then, by all accounts for “womens rugby” if successful and profitable, to keep all the money etc that comes from success, to themselves and f$@k mens rugby?

        • John Yeoman

          100% it would be fair. They earned it they keep it.

        • Habitual offender

          So your wish is for Womens Rugby to come entirely under their own governance, and not be included in any way in Mens Rugby?
          Maybe we could differentiate into Brown and White people too? No inclusiveness whatsoever?

          You probably think I am just being an ar$ehole (fair enuff, join the club) and arguing for the sake of it, or be a pedant of sorts.

          Far from it

        • John Yeoman

          Ok if the games are completely equal and we are all in together then why can’t I play for the women’s team?
          They are already separate you muppet.

        • Habitual offender

          You probably could, muppet

        • John Yeoman

          No champ. There is no rule saying Women can’t play Super Rugby… there is only a rule saying Men can’t play in the women’s comp.
          That is the discrimination. No one has ever stopped a woman, who is capable and skilled enough to make it, from playing super rugby or professional rugby in the men’s comp.
          I have never said they shouldn’t have a comp but they need to play amateur until the competition gets the sponsorship and money to sustain itself.

        • Habitual offender

          Fair enough, Ill be polite too.
          I think your idea of discrimination is skewed, but there you go.
          I dont think the women should be payed $millions like their male counterparts.
          Hell, i dont think the men should get paid that.
          A token offering of perhaps enough to get by whilst training and playing would be good though, appropriate to their percieved level.
          A bit like a basic wage.
          Apart from that, my last comment on the matter is – there seems no point with some.

    • Braveheart81

      Even if Women’s rugby takes a long time to generate revenue, it is growing participation and fans at a rapid rate. That is massively important. Like it is not, rugby is a niche sport here and the easiest way to generate new fans is through participation and then having those people share the game with their kids in the future. Rugby in Australia needs more money so it can be better funded both in terms of keeping players here, promoting our teams and funding the grassroots. Fans and participants are a big contributor to that.

      The success of our Women’s 7s team is a massive driver of increasing participation by women and girls.

      • John Yeoman

        The game is going broke now. They have lost their chance for long term investment.
        It sounds harsh but the women need to be amateur until their game can generate money… like every other sport on earth has start out as.

        • Braveheart81

          World Rugby largely funds the 7s world series. You could certainly argue that our women’s team are generating significant gains for Rugby Australia. The salaries paid to our women’s 7s squad are not massive anyway.

          The game has haemorrhaged fans. We need to bring more fans into the sport. By your argument we should stop spending any money on anything that isn’t the professional players.

        • Habitual offender

          Womens Rugby / Mens Rugby?
          I thought they both were just Rugby.
          Maybe you see a difference that i dont.

        • John Yeoman

          I can tell you an obvious difference.
          If Samu Kerevi was a woman she would be the biggest fastest most skill player the game has ever seen… As a man he is a liability in defence and can’t pass.

        • Habitual offender

          you noticed?
          If Sam was a woman I bet you’d hold your lip around her too.

        • Habitual offender

          man..
          Around an hour or so ago, I was sitting back with my large screen up on the wall, scrolling through the comments section on GAGR.
          Alongside me, throwing in a few comments and with with great interest at Jamies article, was a young lass.

          She was honoured to get into one of the Super-W squads at the start of 2018, and trained well above and beyond the call for several months, before her first ever run on in the “Big Scene”
          She never asked for money, or re-compense in anyway whatsoever, allthough without donations and help from friends/businesses she would never have been able to complete more than the first couple of weeks training.

          When scrolling through certain comments, she turned quiet and left the room.
          I followed to ask her opinion, but she shook just her head and said “There is no point talking to certain people. There is no point..”

          But – Here I am trying to make a point, regardless.

          She’s gone now, off to physio to try and fix injuries sustained during the comp, resulting in the last 3 weeks off work (still unpaid).

          Four months of intensive physical work to try and become professional, to read a comment that she takes as being “You aint worth shit”

          All I can say is, get off your opinionated arse and get down to some of these elite training runs, go and watch a few games and see the journeys these women are on…
          But of course it’ll only be more crap Womens Rugby..

        • John Yeoman

          Oh so she trained for four months and is now a professional player?
          Thank you for proving my point that the competition is too weak to be considered professional.

        • Habitual offender

          No, Played and trained many seasons before- 4 months for a run on in one SuperW amateur comp, unsupported by “hard men” such as yourself. More like “softcock with large mouth”

        • Bernie Chan

          Spot on…if in SYD, simply drive down to Narrabeen and watch how hard the Women’s 7s squad train…and the games between NSW and QLD in the Super-W were cracking contests. Hard fought, physical, passionate…quality rugby. Actually, would suggest it was better viewing than watching my Reds run around like chooks…

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Bit rough mate. I think it’s expressing a general dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs and is a start point for discussion rather than a template. The thing with the woman’s rugby is that they show how it could be done for men’s so worth bringing up. I tend to agree on the Bledisloe, with all due respect to the last game it didn’t matter then. I think 4 is actually correct but as a start point only. It needs development to truly bridge the gap but is an absolute necessity for the development of players, coaches, admistrators and referees.

      • John Yeoman

        Agreed on 4. I’m saying you can’t compare it to ITM or Currie cup.
        The issue with the NRC is that it’s is just guys thrown together at the end of a long season. If it was to be a genuine comp it needs to run concurrently to the club comp. Rather than a bloke running riot in club comps he should be tested each week in the NRC. That is the only way to improve is best on best rather than one week a team is putting 100 on Penrith then the next the bloke is facing the Crusaders.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Mate absolutely it needs to be the jump from club to Super. Just like the ITM and Currie Cups. It’s a big gap here

  • dsb

    A good article but the reality is that meaningful revolution/reform will not occur within the current governance/corporate structure of ARU/RA. They have no credibility since the Force debacle. I would turn Super Rugby into a national competition plus some Islander and emerging countries and or as part of the NRC. Focus international Rugby on the national team the Wallabies. Like the State and national schoolboys/girls. Clubs could be public, shareholders and private and free to air and Fox.

  • Gregory Parkes-Skell

    It’s likely not possible but could much of the player drain issues be abated by RA setting something up in order to become essentially the international agent for Australian players.

    This could be done alongside a move to a more conservative professional structure within our borders and the re-emergence of the Aus A program.

    I know this certainly comes across as facilitating the player drain. And it kind of does. But it would hopefully put things back more in our favour long term. A move to a more conservative pro competition would lead to players leaving but this could be countered by widening the ‘Giteau Law’ from 60 caps to just a single cap in any senior team. Meaning all an Australian player needs to do is play for either the Wallabies or Aus A.

    That’s where the Aus A program comes in. We could use this as a prime opportunity to cap and then have a raft of players playing in Europe but eligible to play for us if and when they are ready.

    After the Wallabies have been selected we can then select the Aus A program from the remaining group of players including our U20s to tour against the emerging nations in officially recognised games. Thus locking them in long term.

    Essentially everything would be geared toward the drain in the short to medium term while we work on developing our local products to the point were this become obsolete.

    • Tah Tragic

      GPS What would stop a player from getting developed in Oz, playing for Aus A moving to Europe and then player for another nation. Your proposal gives young players even more opportunities if they move OS. They would be eligible for the Wallabies but also could be eligible for another country. I think you would open the floodgates.
      Also you would completely gut Super Rugby of any talent left. It might be heading that way but this would just accelerate it.

      • Tah Tragic

        I just looked up the eligibility rules. GPS you might be right. Playing for Aus A would lock you into playing for Australia. Should have checked 1st before I commented.

        • Bakkies

          To be locked in you have to play a match against another nation such as England, Ireland and Scotland that uses their A team as their secondary team. Wales are trying to recruit players that have played for the England Saxons but they haven’t been cap tied as they have played those matches against teams with A teams.

          South Africa have also been caught out as the England Saxons tour to SA didn’t cap tie the SA players that played in those matches against the Saxons.

    • Braveheart81

      The reason Australia A never plays is because it is almost as costly as running a test match in terms of player payments but doesn’t generate the revenue. If you can make the players available it may as well be the real thing and generate income.

      The biggest problem with structuring our game around encouraging the bulk of our best players to play overseas is that it weakens our national team significantly. Preparation time is greatly reduced when you only have the international window to work with and we then become like Fiji, Samoa and Tonga who only get to bring their side together for the week of the test match with no in season preparation either.

      If we gutted the domestic game such that it depleted the Wallabies significantly (the thing that actually generates revenue), I’m not sure whether you definitely get that back in the longer term.

  • Perth girl

    And Bill Pulver took a similar amount when he left RA recently. Agree the rot has started from the top, until Clyne and the rest of the board go rugby in Australia cannot move forward

    • Marlins Tragic

      In Bills defense, he gave $350k of it to the ARF.

  • LED

    Everyone knows deep down but doesnt want to admit openly that to achieve any of these aims, Australian Rugby is going to have to go through a painful RESET. This is the same as any company where things have got to rock bottom.

    This is a classic turnaround situation. RA needs to map out what success would look like in regards to all its stakeholder relationships and contracting then force through the changes necessary – and accept the pain that comes with doing so.

    To do this the hard decisions now that would ultimately pay off would be to:

    1. RA is intractably loss making under its current structure. The Directors should wind it up and in doing so that would cancel all contracts, exit all compotitions. If they are organised ahead of the winding up, this can be pretty seasmless and fast – a la Force/Twiggy scenario.
    2. Super Rugby franchises would have to enter administration/liquidation as their payments from RA would stop. SANZAAR membership goes. Involvement in Super Rugby is put on ice til new structure in place.
    3. Capitalise an entirely new entity which would buy the assets of RA and the Super Rugby franchises and centralise it. Brands, facilities etc.
    4. Put in place new contracts: All coaches centrally contracted, all players centrally contracted and loaned/directed to franchises. Add into all Super Rugby and NPC player contracts a clause that if they go overseas, they pay 25% of their salaries back to NewCo RA for 3 years after leaving to pay back the investment made in them (rate scales based on how many years theyve been in professional Australian rugby receiving payments and training from RA. Same with coaches.This deals NewCo RA into any overseas deal negotiations.
    5. As part of this capitalise a new European based “Australian” player club and get it into one of the competitions there. Players who want to go overseas but opt for this club dont have to pay the 25% of salary penalty as they will be available to Australian rugby. NewCo RA deals itself into some of the European TV revenues this way.
    6. Captial is raised via private or pubic means to fund the programs in Australia necessary for the rebirth of rugby here: Programs are defined around function: Coach development, player development and channel: Community Rugby, Elite Junor rugby, U20 rugby (pre professional), NPC rugby, Super Rugby, Sevens. Each has a business plan and a management structure in its own right to make sure it runs properly.
    7. Elite Junior rugby development: A proper elite development program is put in place for U15’s and above rugby which involves a full season elite program extending the Premier clubs programs down to that level. The program is modelled around the Soccer SAP prgorams with skill development, training 3 times a week, weekend games right way through a full season. Elite players move out of main “village” cub system early and get into these elite “Premier” pathways. Coaches as well. Families fund this supplements by NewCo RA just like in soccer with annual fees of $2500/yr if you want your child to be trainied in a separate elite sporting system. “Sportships” can be offered by NewCo RA to waive this if theres elite talent identified that simply cant afford it.
    8. TV: Foxtel is offered only a joint TV contract / not exclusive. The Force/Twiggy model is applied to get a FTA TV deal that will start small in value but grow if this plan is a success over the medium term. Again in the capitalisation of the entity, allowance would need to be made for the likely lower TV revenues in early years.

    This would be a start. At end of day it will take 10 years to rebuild Australian rugby and it will cost a lot given the rot has been building for so long. Players will leave in the transition period and new player will have to be developed over 5 years to get us back eventually.

    The main thing would be that a big decision is made that it really IS broken and drastic action is now required or they are just moving deckchairs.

    • Huw Tindall

      Some big calls here but just the kind of bold action we want to see. I’d like to see RA say why not to some of the ideas bring thrown up here. The lack of transparecncy at RA is disturbing and without it you can only get the impression they are asleep at the wheel or if they are awake they never passed driver’s test.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Big call mate and some really good ideas. Love the idea of a centralised management and control of players and coaches. It also needs to include the administrators and referees though

    • I get your idea, but no player or commercial (sponsor or broadcaster) would want to have anything to do with the organisations and teams that replace the “wound up” ones. They’d have no faith it wouldn’t happen again.

      • LED

        Completely disagree. It would be the same brands with same fans afterwards. The reorganisation is a corporate tactic to be able to, in a single event, centralise organisation of rugby in Australia and put it on an operational platform that gives it a chance to survive longer term. Right now its heart rate monitor is flat-lining.

        At the end of the day we say rugby is a professional sport but the current operational model has a professional head body with the rest of it basically run the same way it did in amateur days. Limited coordination, states fighting each other, RA paying players but having limited say in their development or use, no professional coaching development program, no skills development program. All because RA can develop these things but cant drill it down to the club level.

    • Braveheart81

      Your first point doesn’t work. You can’t just wind up an entity to avoid fulfilling your contractual obligations.

    • Marlins Tragic

      Agree with just about everything here apart from the OS Aussie club, who would pay for that?

      • LED

        #5: Various models ultimately but say its a London based side. Ex-pat fan interest could be strong particularly if you include a coule NZers in it and couplr Saffers to broaden fan base. Hence cut of offshore TV revs drawn by expat eyeballs. Then TV revs from say Foxtel, Sky NZ, etc for showing the team’s European games back home, and in NZ, maybe SA. Add a big corporate sponsorship that resonates with overseas markets. Think Qantas, Fosters, QBE, Treasury Wines, Brambles, Amcor, Janus Henderson, Magellan, Bunnings, Dulux, Harvey Norman, LendLease – whatever that is linked with Australia but also operates internationally and is looking to leverage that association. It would be a fairly unique sporting product particularly if its filled with Wallabies.

        #7 School boy A teams already train 3 times per week. SAP soccer train 3 time per week from U10 upwards

  • onlinesideline

    didnt the aussie girls just get their arses properly spanked by the kiwi girls ?

    (rather nice thought actually)

    • Braveheart81

      Yes. They were awful but they are still top of the Sevens World Series ladder this season. They are maybe not the best team right now. NZ won the series last year and won the Comm Games recently.

      Australia and NZ are clearly the best two teams though and we may well win the World Series again this year.

      • onlinesideline

        oh ok can that thought then

      • Bernie Chan

        And the interim coach rested a few of their ‘guns’…

        • Marlins Tragic

          A few! Most of them, that was dev team if I ever saw one.

    • Hoss

      Big fall from Comm Games Final a few weeks back.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      That’s reinforcing the stereotype mate. I did laugh though.

    • Bakkies

      Yeah they have a problem created by more mismanagement by the RA. They lost their head coach Tim Walsh prior to the season finish, he went over to the men’s side before his tenure was due to start as Andy Friend quiet rightly didn’t want to stick around which left the girls having to find a new coach at short notice. This is really poor for the girls as coaching is crucial to them as a lot of their players haven’t played much Rugby at all (which includes club XV a side).

      • Braveheart81

        This is not true. Walsh announced in January he would step down from the women’s team after the Comm Games well before he was appointed to the Men’s position. This was originally to take some time off to spend with his family which was then cut short. The women’s team were always going to have a new coach immediately after the Comm Games. https://www.rugby.com.au/news/2018/01/10/tim-walsh-womens-sevens-stepping-down

  • Braveheart81

    I think privatisation of the Super Rugby teams (or whatever competition our franchise based professional teams end up playing in) has to be the way to go. We need those players based here to provide a decent crop of professional players to fill the bulk of the national team (which generates the revenue). We need to move of that expenditure off of Rugby Australia’s books as possible.

    The sport needs wealthy benefactors who want to own teams and put money into the game. Twiggy is a great starting point and hopefully others want to follow suit. The reality is that if someone is willing to lose a few million dollars on owing a team each year great things can be done. I have no idea what the Force’s finances are going to look like but with deep pockets, advertising can be bought, better TV access can be arranged and clearly fans can be engaged. I have no idea how long it will last but it has certainly created excitement in the west.

    The game was healthiest here when it was amateur (and for a few years after) when the Wallabies could generate lots of revenue and because you weren’t spending so much money on players, the grassroots can be better funded. We need significant private capital injected into the game to make that possible again.

    • paul

      If you want to privatize Super rugby teams, you need to create the market conditions for them to be an attractive (albeit loss making enterprises).

      Right now you wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole. You can’t have it both ways.

  • Andrew Luscombe

    RA could implement something close to transfer fees unilaterally. E.g. if they provide scholarships or something similar to young players and one of the conditions is that they need to play in Australia for say 10 years, then any overseas club would have to pay RA to get them out of that contract with what is effectively a transfer fee.

    I vaguely remember something from World Rugby that prevents players under 18 from signing contracts, and also their parents on their behalf, but still, most players still have a lot of development to do at 18.

    • Bakkies

      Then the RA will be stuck with more Quade Cooper situations where players on onerous contracts are playing club Rugby for lengthy periods when their coach won’t select them and that also restricts their potential earnings. Whinging about it something they can’t fix is not going to work. They need to focus on coaching and player development which they spend bugger all on.

      • Andrew Luscombe

        It all depends on the terms of the contracts. I wasn’t envisaging contracting an 18 year old $500,000 per year for 10 years. You can pay them just a scholarship for a year, and then get an ongoing option for 10.

  • Billy Foster

    great article which pointed out some profound deficiency’s in what needs to be done to improve Australian Rugby. I noted a lot of if only or maybes except the one missing and most ingredient knowing how to WIN!….A couple of comments made on how Australian women’s going and are 7’s rugby champions which isn’t quiet true after being thrashed recently by the NZ women Sevens final in Canada by the biggest margin of all time plus NZ women’s 15 a side are the current World Champions

  • Hoss

    Great read Jamie. Well researched and articulated so well, in fact, an ill-educated redneck like me can understand most of it and it has pretty pictures too.

    I agree with all you say, but would add the caveat that its also a dreadfully exciting time in Rugby. We can all agree the malaise Oz Rugby is in, but what an opportunity to rebuild, totally rebuild, bring in new initiatives, new business plans and transform the code.

    Few organisations get the opportunity to release a 2.0 version of itself.

    Passion for this game still flickers in the fading embers of Aussie Fans and i reckon if RA had the courage of its convictions, admit the folly of the past and offer a few human sacrifices to the Rugby Gods, then a new dawn is there for the taking.

    Its a chance, as you said for a revolution. Pair with Twiggy for his business clout and wallet and build a model that suits us, caters to us, has a vision for our juniors and our established stars.

    For all the doom and gloom our destiny has never been more in our control. Reach for the Rugby Viagra and strap yourself in – nothing ventured, nothing gained and should a new dawn go pear shaped, well what have we lost.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Love the optimism Hoss but not sure the QLD and NSW states have the maturity to give up some of their power to RA. I fear this is needed or the great tragedy will occur

  • Andrew Luscombe

    I would have thought that only the French and English leagues benefit from the current situation, not even their national bodies do really, and that there would be enough votes among all the other nations within World Rugby to implement universal salary caps, transfer fees, or some type of restrictions or incentives to spread rugby talent around the world, or reduce it’s concentration. Does anybody know why there isn’t more argument around these things at a high level? Perhaps it’s just that there has been little thought put into arguing the case.

    • Bakkies

      Simple reason is that it would be illegal under the Bosman ruling which is an EU law. Rugby has transfer fees for on contract players most clubs just choose to release players (see Kepu being released back to the RA with two seasons left on his contract at Bordeaux) but cannot enforce them on players who are off contract. Doing that also ended up in the courts in Australia which is highlighted in the Senate Inquiry in to Australian Soccer in the 90s (it wasn’t just overall mismanagement that was the terms of reference for that Inquiry).

      On salary caps you also can’t enforce a universal salary cap when each individual union has a collective bargaining agreement with their player’s union. Those agreements dictate what must be spent on player salaries.

      • Andrew Luscombe

        Those rulings apply to particular models of transfer fee – i.e. a player registration system where the previous team has a right to refuse to release the registration of the player to the new team. Limited reserve clauses in contracts that fairly recognise player development contributed by a club or union are a different thing.

        If over a period of a few years, all the unions are required by World Rugby to implement the same salary cap in their collective bargaining agreements, then there will end up being a universal salary cap.

  • Hannes En Brianda Barnard

    As your key asset is the players, you need to own the players. You need to focus funding on the development of your pipeline of players.
    RA however see it very differently. The reason the Aussie superugby teams are not successful is due to the existence of the Western Force. The reason that rugby is not supported in Melbourne and not commercially viable is due to the existence of the Western Force, Rugby Australia believes that if they destroy the game in WA that all their problems will disappear.
    There is no need to schedule a test in WA, there is no need to fund rugby over there, the 30% drop in junior player registration (in what was the fastest growing state), there used to be 26 colt teams, now there are 6 – all of this is not their problem. However after Twiggy attracted the best and second best crowds for nothing exhibition games and started to stem the free fall RA pushed WA rugby into, the media start to think that maybe, just maybe WA rugby is part of the solution and not the problem!

  • Hitcho

    Cracker of an article. I tip my hat.

    It’s only a simple observation but there appears to be zero cohesion in Australian rugby when compared NZ. Every team wears Adidas gear including the AB’s. The AB’s even wear the same boots. A simple thing but it screams unity.

    • Kev Brown

      Ducking kiwi teams bahhhhhh

    • Marlins Tragic

      Only because Adidas pay a TON of money for the privilege, as do AIG, who pay around $50mil to sponsor from school boys to,All Blacks & everything in between.

  • Sevenwithasixonmyback

    Great dissection of our numerous woes, Jamie.
    The biggy here is the Catch 22 scenario of having World Rugby seemingly promote European teams being built by foreign cattle, upping broadcast rights and ultimately upping player salaries in a market much much larger than our own – putting a perceived price-tag on Australian based players that they will naturally compare to Euro contracts – which is both unrealistic and unsustainable even in the short-term.
    Foreign player caps is the way to go, but with ever increasing revenue driven by the inclusion (saturation) of foreign players, and most would be considered marquee in any competition, that’s unlikely.
    Maybe in its self-reflection, RA should demand players (its employees) drop the egos and focus on a Test cap or two…

    • mikado

      I don’t think World Rugby can be accused of promoting anything. They’re simply not intervening to counteract “market forces”. And I think there would be howls of protest if WR did try to interfere in local competitions or impose rules on player movement.

  • Johnno

    Schoolboy rugby needs a complete review as Alan Jones has pointed out in his 10 point plan last week.
    The Australian schools rugby union needs to be disbanded and rugby australia take control of schoolboy rugby..
    Also private schools need to merge there comps in sydney to create a higher standard of rugby comps, no surprise the best 4 nations in rugby right now have professionalized and commercialized there school boy rugby comps eg TV deals/sponsors/ eg haveing the NZRU take control of schoolboy rugby in NZ and comps not independant schools, in other words in NZ schools sacrifce there rugby soverignty to the NZRU to help the All Blacks. So our schools both plublic and private need to get ambitous and have a rugby facotry academy culture like the four best nations in rugby right now have eg NZ/SA/Ireland/England. Our schools don’t care enough about global rugby domination and this lack of ambition filters to our average OZ schoolboys rugby side/u-20’s sides..
    Also 3-to 5 foreign importd per oz super rugby side. Next year RA is banning all foreign imports not eligble for wallabies eg Gareth Delve/J Pots types.. How is that helpful as is the current foreign import restrictions. This focuse by RA of just chasing wallaby glory not super rugby glory is flawed. No wonder oz rugby fans have no passion in our super rugby sides, as it’s just a development comp to find potential wallabies so RA tolerate endless super rugby losses and hardly ever winning a title. That mentality needs to change and super rugby glory needs to be valued otherwise it will just continue the endless cycle of fans not caring about super rugby glory as RA don’t value super rugby as they only care about the “Wallabies”.. In Europe eg France both club and national sides are valued equal.. The atmoshphere as the european champions cup final was awesome, the leincster and racing 92 fans actually had pride in there clubs(and yes they had foreign imports eg dan carter). Dan Carter playing in france is not harming french rugby get a grip, or Haban or Nonu. So yes, RA needs to start valuing super rugby glory not just wallaby gold, then the fans might come back.. How was J Pots in 2014 harming OZ rugby by helping the Tahs win a title? He wasn’t, and endless losses by oz teams without enough local depth to match the kiwi sides is not good to develop wallabies.. I can;t believe next year foreign imports not eligble to represent the wallabies won’t be allowed to be bought in oz super rugby sides, and the losses will continue to be tolerated as super rugby is just a trial comp for RA to find wallabies, as said that culture means fans don’t care about it as ra don’t care about losses… And start pumping funds into junior rugby and scrap the RA junior rego levy..

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      You raise some good points mate. I didn’t realise the schoolboy rugby was so mucked up. The only issue I have with foreign players is that there needs to be something in place to protect enough players being available for the Wallabies, or relax the rules for off shore players. If say every 9 in the Super teams was a foreign player ineligible for the Wallabies, how would you manage it?

      • Johnno

        I support 3 to 5 per side… I don’t want 9 I want balance.. At the moment in oz it’s all about the wallabies only as I said and no pride in super rugby glory… Experienced imports would help, NZ hardly needs any imports as they have depth we don’t. Yep schoolboy rugby in oz is a joke, in NZ the schools are rugby ambitious and want kiwi rugby domination and are happy for the NZRU to dictate and change the competition structures at anytime.. I got no problem in nz, with the NZRU treating the schools as rugby academy factories.. in oz the schoolboy rugby culture couldn’t be more different.. There’s no ambition in the school conferences to help RA or wallabies be globally competitive, and not remotely enough collaboration between RA and the schools.. schoolboy rugby in both private-public schools, most schools are well behind the eight ball… And many value other sports more than rugby…

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Sorry mate I didn’t write clearly. If every halfback (that’s what I meant by 9) was a foreign import, who plays for the Wallabies?

    • Grant

      Back in my day .. . when I played in Christchurch NZ our school boy system had two levels, A/ Single sex schools (mostly private with state boys schools) and B/ co-ed schools. The gap between the two was huge. Now it is all mixed. I’m not sure what brought about the change but co-ed schools have closed the gap. Probably worth someone having a look at that.

  • EDF

    The fact is, if Super Rugby isn’t working, why continue to grasp it? WHy live with this addiction that Australian Rugby must play with the kiwis while the competition fr other codes thrives on domestic leagues fans can follow far more easily.

    The truth of the matter is Oz Rugby needs a reset and it needs to abandon it’s addiction to a trans-tasman alliance, just like Netball did and realised there is more money in domestic leagues with 100% of games being available to an Oz audience then 50% of them plus the fact Oz audiences just aren’t interested in foreign sides with no rival fans to interact with. Super Rugby should be like the European competition as a side line to the domestic league.

    • Braveheart81

      The transition is very difficult when the financial state of the game is parlous and there is a very active global market for our players. Netball is a pretty different situation because it was the best (and only reasonable) situation on offer to the players so the competition organisers have a lot of control in the outcome.

      • Huw Tindall

        If Super Rugby is a loss making subsidy to help pathways to test rugby then we can direct funding to whatever comp takes over. Tough transition potentially but do we have a choice?

        • Braveheart81

          A lot of that funding comes from the broadcast agreement. Does this new competition involve starting new teams from scratch? I still think there will be a natural reorganisation after the current broadcast deal and we will be best placed following that. Unless significant outside money comes in (i.e. multiple Twiggys) wanting to own teams in Australia and plough in a lot of money I don’t think we are in any sort of position to go it alone. RA simply can’t finance a substantial loss making enterprise. Other owners need to be liable for that to happen.

          Super Rugby loses RA money but it also gives us a solid base of professional players which supports the entity that actually drives the revenue.

    • Patrick

      because what is not working is not super rugby but the whole structure on which it is built. If we get rid of super rugby we lose a fantastic platform for our player and coach development but keep the crap that’s causing the problems…no thanks.

    • mikado

      I think just about every professional club competition in the world is loss-making. They’re all subsidised by the national federation, funded by the national team. Can anyone thing of any exceptions?

      Whilst SR is going badly for Australia at present I think you need to be wary of change for the sake of it. I think international competition raises standards and captures broadcaster attention (ie commands tv money).

  • Raymond Viers

    Great article. The depth of the issues are profound.

    As I currently live in California, I can pretty confidently state that the US market for rugby can not be counted for much of anything. Rugby as a viable commercial entity is in it’s infancy in the USA, and if the ROI isn’t there it simply won’t happen.

    The notion of continual growth for products like Super Rugby is problematic.

    While private ownership of franchises may be an option, I suspect it probably would not work, as the profitability/ROI would be in question at all times. I think the better option would be central control of talent and community ownership of the franchises. While not a perfect analogy, the Green Bay Packers of the NFL are the only “public domain” franchise. And it can take years to get season tickets if they become available – they are viewed as family heirlooms! Having the community be the shareholders has many benefits, and if a billionaire comes along sometime in the future, he/she would have to negotiate a fair market value, not a bargain-basement sale price as may be optioned currently.

    It seems that there is movement in Europe to slow the tide of foreign players into their market. The Top 14 implemented new rules this season on foreign signings and is due to further increase the number of French players next year. Most Pro 14 clubs have been judicious in there signings and seem more focused on local talent. If World Rugby can come to the table on meaningful change to either implement a “development/transfer” fee system and stricter eligibility criteria, then the player drain could be stemmed considerably.

    The key though will be to have a structure in place in Australia to make the allure of Europe/Japan less appealing. Some will always go, but if RA could retain one of your two squads listed, that would be a massive help.

    Money, players, coaches, sponsors – all are resources. It is how those resources are allocated and utilized which will determine how rugby travels moving forward. Governance of those resources will determine if is a positive future. Continuing on the current path will only lead to further disappointment.

    • Tim

      Totally agree that fan ownership is the way forward, but I am a Packers fan. It’s a great way to create a positive, strong culture around a team, or in this case hopefully an entire code. It can simultaneously provide the change in leadership and cash injection it needs.

      I do wonder whether RA is too chicken to push for tightening the rules on international player transfers and eligibility because we’ll lose the ability to poach from the Pacific Islands. We’re definitely not the only ones suffering under the current set up.

      • Kiwi rugby lover

        That’s a great point Tim. I think most actually move of their own accord or come here as kids but it would be something that should flow down

    • Super Rugby teams needing subsidies is stupid enough. What would you think if Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid were subsidied by the national federations.

  • Huw Tindall

    Sometimes a corporate blood letting is required and it is done. Recent example is Ian Narev at CBA. All the shit that came put was well before his time but ultimately the buck stops with him and the shareholders/board said your got to go. Similar thing should happen at RA but cull more.

    In corporate psychology this sort of thing is real. How can employees and shareholders get behind the company when the leaders who put it in the shit seem to get away scot free?

    Sharpen the guillotine.

    • Bakkies

      Exactly everyone says it is not Raelene’s doing however she knew what she was getting herself into and put her signature to Pulver and de Clyne’s mismanaged books. That means it is now her responsibility as executive director of the RA.

  • Braveheart81

    I think the situation with Mowen was that he was captain when other more likely players were out injured. The coach (McKenzie) didn’t think he would be captain or necessarily starting next season and didn’t want the rules changed to offer Mowen a top up contract. At that time they were based on having played a certain number of tests in the previous two seasons which Mowen didn’t meet.

    • Kiap

      Yes, but those “rules” were pseudo rules – applying less than all of the time to less than all of the players.

      As you say, the ARU didn’t really want him. Not quite the other way round.

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        Yep. And a truly sad thing too. Mowen did what he needed to in order to look after his family, and he probably made the right choice. But it was a sad day for Aussie rugby when he went overseas.

        • Andy

          I thought he was heavily underrated. Not a flashy player but worked his backside off and was the best line out jumping back rower I’ve seen in Australia since cockbain.

      • Bakkies

        Yeah and he actually put to pen paper with the Brumbies which indicated that he was willing to stay.

    • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

      He was behind Higgers, Fardy, Palu for 6/8 at the very least in the pecking order purely from an individual playing level perspective.

      ARU didn’t at the time recognise just how good he was as a leader. It’s a shame, because even if he was’t the best in his position he was the best captain option we had had in a long, long time. The Boks realised this with Whiteley in which it sounds like he is virtually guaranteed the starting 8 jersey despite the fact that I think he is probably inferior to Vermuelen and JLDP as a pure player, but he brings so much in his teams in getting an extra 5-10% out of his players.

      It’s a real shame. The resignation of Link was the beginning of the end as it meant we lost our top quality Wallaby coach, Aus rugby lost their best SR coach in Cheika and a bunch of inexperienced people found themselves as head coaches of SR teams (Larkham, Gibson, etc). I imagine that had Mowen been there the shenanigans that led to Link resigning wouldn’t have occurred.

  • Kirsten Moar

    I am an avid Waratahs & Wallabies supporter who has the luck to live in Auckland and it has been very hard to keep the faith in RA. Rugby is not just a sport here in NZ, it’s a religion, a way of life. It figures in every day news, water-cooler discussions and playgrounds.
    I thought this article was extremely well-written and really addresses the issues. I can only hope that RA takes note and actually does something about it. It would be refreshing to go to RWC next year and hold my head high. Actually, it would just be refreshing just to head down to Hamilton in a fortnight and support my Tahs and not be embarrassed by the inevitable drubbing. Good luck RA – the future is wide open.

  • Ron Sutherland

    Excellent article.

  • MungBean

    How is it possible, that in an article this size, a certain strabismic goblin, who is the captain of both the Waratahs and Wallatahs, has the responsibility for these two teams *LEARNING NOTHING* on the field, and is positionally most to blame for the sheer number of turnovers that the Tahs are conceding, gets mentioned twice and nether in a negative context?? At what point does the dude actually wear some blame??

    • qwasimodo

      I think he has to take a lot of responsibility for the team learning nothing. But he is without doubt one of our better players. I don’t think he should be captain and I think he’d potentially be better off the bench for the wallabies, but he is hardly a cause for the issues in Australian rugby. Our problem with failing to play clever or responsive rugby is a far greater issue than 1 player, even if he is the captain.

      • MungBean

        I’m not blaming one player. I’m noting that, in a 7000 word analysis of Australian rugby, the long term captain (who helped knife Link and install his preferred coach), and whose on field leadership is questionable (if he actually stays on the pitch), amazingly does not come in for a single shred of criticism.

        But while we are on the subject: Hooper is the best all round player in the Wallabies. Unfortunately, rugby union isn’t about jack of all trades individuals (like RL is), it is about 15 specialists playing as a team. His inclusion at the expense of a proper fetcher (like Gill) or playing Pocock out of position causes more trouble than its worth, particularly when his inability to compete at the breakdown results in frustration and him earning yellow cards.

    • mikado

      I think Hooper’s not slated in the article because the article’s about the big issues in Aussie rugby, not the fine detail.

    • Jack Mallick

      All the problems with Aussie rugby start and end with Hooper? Get over it

      • MungBean

        No they don’t. I didn’t say they did. That is a strawman. I said that the lack of mention of the failings of the player leadership group ignores the elephant on the room.

  • Moose

    Great article Jamie, thank you.

  • MungBean

    That women’s rugby is doing well is definitely a great thing. At the moment, though, it is men’s rugby that is the driver for game growth, income etc. Women’s rugby being great is like the gravy being awesome when the meat is burnt and the spuds are lumpy.

  • andrewM

    IMO, whilst Twiggy has bankrolled WSR I don’t think it is his preferred model – hence why he offered the no-interest loans to those people wanting to buy shares in Own the Force last year.

  • Bakkies

    ‘In the Sydney Morning Herald recently, journalist Paul Cully made the striking observation that not a single recent under 20s playmaker is starting for a Super Rugby team and most aren’t even in a squad.’

    That is a huge indictment. In comparison Ireland have Bill Johnston (Munster), Ross Byrne (Leinster), Joey Carbery (Leinster), Johnny McPhillips (Ulster) who were in recent Irish under 20s squads playing pro Rugby. Carbery was capped by Ireland while in the Leinster Academy after playing a season of club Rugby for Clontarf.

  • Bakkies

    ‘John O’Neill himself had taken a half million dollar top-up out of the game when rugby was just about on its knees.’

    Try 750k while he was doing a shit job earning 7 figures.

  • I enjoyed the article. One thing I think should be done immediately is the nationalisation of all the Super Rugby teams. They are too big to fail anyway and RA ends up bailing them out when they got belly up (which of them has not been bailed out at some point? The Waratahs maybe?). Model it on the system in NZ: RA owns 51% of each team and every player is contracted to them, but other than managing the workload of international players and having a say on coaching appointments the teams would be kept at arms length (to allow some competition and hopefully innovation). In this situation you would never see Richard Graham moving from one franchise to another, or a failing coach quickly picked up somewhere else. It would also keep a lid on some of the stupid salaries paid to players over the years ($600,000 to Cooper — seriously!), and allow Super Rugby and Wallaby top-ups to be negotiated at the same time as they’d be one and the same (with AR).

    On top of that I would also allow PI players to play in Aussie teams (like they can in NZ) without being Aust. eligible. This would improve the quality of their squads — this would actually help Australian development as you definitely learn more playing around quality players rather than a mediocre one.

  • Sevenwithasixonmyback

    You are correct and my use of the word ‘promote’ was probably a lazy way to suggest that by not suggesting some form of player origin balance, the organising bodies of world rugby are supporting the mass marquee model, perhaps to the detriment of some of their own competitions – yet at no detriment to player salaries and the income of umbrella organisations and their executives.
    It’s a bit like the pub market and the introduction of poker machines… Pubs were once valued on their real estate and business performance. So, say, a pub in inner west Sydney might have once had a sale value of $3-4M, that same pub now, with the pokies, would sell for 10 times that.
    Pokies are bad things, so sayeth the commentators, and should be removed to reduce the scourge of addiction. BUT, if one was to remove the pokies, that $20-30M pub now has a market value of only $5-6M – real estate and general food and bev operations. Obviously no-one can withstand such a reduction in their (perceived) worth due to an enforced restructure and continue in the same manner, so the removal of pokies in pubs will never happen, but a re-evaluation of player worth when playing in Australia for Australian national and provincial teams is probably what might be required if Australian rugby is to rebuild. And that will bring with it a change in player culture.
    Australian rugby cannot continue on in the same manner as it has over the last 20 years.
    Player contract payments in Australia are unrealistic and so is competing with the European market. It is simply unsustainable.
    Searching for middle ground is all I’m saying.

  • About public ownership, how about having two member-selected seats in each union board?

  • Who?

    Excellent article. But your points about expanding development pathways are ruined by maintaining the current focus on schools, rather than on clubs. Schools are outside RA’s control, contribute nothing to RA, and whilst they develop many Wallabies, they don’t necessarily develop many club players.
    The focus for ALL development MUST be on clubs. Clubs develop kids from Under 6’s through Seniors, with the possible exception of periods when schools ‘steal’ them for the glory of winning a school premiership to ensure that enrolments in the school are maintained.
    Compare that with club, where kids can develop from wherever they might be, at their own pace. And they stay connected with the club, playing into seniors. We’re looking at the possibility that Rangi might be a Wallaby in a month’s time. He’s 29. He had a life, a trade, got back to playing club, and now he’s developed himself into an option. If we’re focusing on schools, who recruit their First XV at 12, then we’re narrowing our talent pool, and we don’t have control over their selection policies. It’s flawed logic.

    • Marlins Tragic

      “Schools are outside RA’s control, contribute nothing to RA”

      School boys don’t pay participation fees, so don’t contribute financially to the well being of rugby in Australia, they also get FREE referees for their games.

      Yet we, as fee paying parents via village grassroots club fees, prop up the ASRU via RA to the tune of around $300k every year.

      Yet, RA has NO say in any of the logistics or pathways for schools rugby.

      I don’t agree with Alan Jones on much but I do agree with his 10 point plan last week.

      Something is clearly not right here!

      • Who?

        And the village clubs – where many (I’d venture most, perhaps with the exception of some of the First XV’s who are parachuted in) players get their first taste of Rugby – lose their players due to the schools…
        It doesn’t normally work that way in League. League, they play during the week, so they can play club on the weekend. Clubs rule. And they’re tied to the NRL. That’s how we should work.

  • Grant

    Wow, glad I got to the end. Good to see written what many people talk about, particularly failing forward and grass roots development. I see a lot of love for the game but cynicism of management. Hopefully they can pick one or two things and start chipping away at it.

  • Titan

    Key is the 2020 TV rights. Can’t see this increasing (suspect it will actually decrease based on recent ratings and less collateral / teams). Lower broadcast deal combined with lower gate just means RA can’t afford to pay players… we have to accept they will play overseas and still let them play for Australia. No different to soccer model

Rugby

More in Rugby