Maybe we just can't have professional rugby - Green and Gold Rugby
Club Rugby

Maybe we just can’t have professional rugby

Maybe we just can’t have professional rugby

Trans-Tasman – Asian Pacific – National Club Comp – Global Rapid Rugby expansion – State of Origin – expanded NRC.  There has been a lot of models of competition being put out there of late as proposed answers to rugby’s current problems in Australia.   Unfortunately, each of them has problems. Or are largely based on what can only be described as ‘straw-clutching’ assumptions.

Can we assume that New Zealand will be happy to play only Australian teams? Can we assume that Twiggy would offer an olive branch after he was rejected previously? Can we assume that any broadcaster is prepared to pay for rights to this content to keep the game commercial at a level we have become comfortable with?

I feel its increasingly unlikely for us to be able to assume any of these. In fact, my own assumption is that professional rugby in Australia is completely unsustainable.

In fact, I do not feel positive as to the future of our sport at all. At least in its current form.  For not only is Rugby Australia struggling financially but so are the Super Rugby teams and the respective state bodies. And not just now, but they have been year in year out for a long time.

I can’t see a knight in shining armor either. World Rugby’s loan could end up being a donation. It may not even be enough to get us out of this current sink hole of a state we find ourselves in after decades of financial, operational and strategic mismanagement across the game.

So where do I think it will go? Genuinely? I reckon we are going to Marty McFly this thing. I think we are going back…to the future.

And I think we should embrace it.

If our biggest revenue is TV rights and that is looking dodgier by the day, the biggest expenditure is player and super rugby costs.  Then to offset a dramatic loss in revenue, the biggest cost items will be the first to go.

Domestic Rugby

Most Aussies agree Super Rugby is a broken model and that ditching it will be a good thing.  But I have read too much to suggest that people then think those 120 professional players will just stick around and play club footy.  And then that this will result in an incredible club footy program from which we can build an all-powerful national club comp.

It will not happen.

Once Super Rugby is done, and with no viable alternative, expect 95% of our Super Rugby and Wallaby players to go overseas or to rugby league. And a few more from the rung below.  We will not be able to stop them.  Again – embrace it.  These are professional players who need to maximize their earnings at a young age while they can.  Let them.

Sure, there will be uncertainty as to some of the professional rugby models overseas, but most seem more solid than anything we have here.  So, expect a tidal wave of high-quality Aussie rugby players heading to France, the UK, Japan and perhaps the USA.  Maybe even South Africa or New Zealand. And of course the NRL.

Back here, club footy will be it.  The QLD Premier Rugby, Shute Shield, John I Dent Cup etc will just continue as usual.  These are amateur clubs with a heavy reliance on volunteers played by players who just want to play footy.  Nothing will stop them doing that.  They can run from basically March until September with a few bye weekends built around rep rugby. But this will be the highest level of consistent rugby in Australia.

Because the sport will continue to exist as a sport.  Kids will play it; some schools will play it; there will be suburban rugby and there will be premier and broader club rugby. I suspect numbers may struggle for a while.  Perhaps for a long time.  But it remains a fun game to play and watch at those levels. It will continue to be so.

And thus, there will be a national body.  They may have to begin again as Rugby Union Australia or something.  But they will be there basically just to run the game. To organise match official and coach training and accreditation; negotiate the national insurance program; manage some representative rugby and oversee national teams (yes there will be those still, which I will come to soon). But it will be a shadow of it former bulky self as an organisation and will rely heavily on the equally pared back state organisations.

They will still receive funding, I would expect, from Sport Australia as an endorsed national sporting body. But that would go just to running the game and encourage every day Aussies to keep active.  Sponsorship funds would still be a target, probably focused on the Wallabies and the limited games they would still play.

Lawson Creighton Brothers v GPS QPR Club Semi Final (Photo Credit QRUBrendan Hertel)

Club Rugby will become the cornerstone of rugby in Australia (Photo Credit QRUBrendan Hertel)

Representative Rugby

It will still exist.  But it will be just that I reckon – a representative team. Let us start at the state level. These will be amateur teams. Basically, the best players picked from each state.  Largely it will be based on the respective premier club competition, but country rugby would throw up regular contenders I have no doubt.

There may be a chance that some of the young professionals around the competition, such as Angus Scott-Young and Tom Robertson, would stay around and balance their careers with their rugby, but I’d suggest that would be unlikely.

Perhaps there will be some, such as Henry Speight, Will Miller or Lachlan McCaffrey who are at that stage of their playing careers where staying home and setting up base is more important to playing at the top level.  They would be valuable additions to the club scene much the way Ben Mowen and Adam Freier are now to their respective clubs.

As for who these teams would play? Well, like back in the day, it would vary.  Options would be limited given the professional structures involved most everywhere else.  But they could play a Ricoh Challenge like interstate series. Queensland v New South Wales v ACT v Victoria.  All from players playing their respective club comps.

Perhaps there will be a chance to play against the Force or even some of the teams touring for Global Rapid Rugby.  Overseas tours could still be a thing, subject to funding. Games against the heartland teams of New Zealand or maybe the Pacific Islands or Japan.  Budgets would be stretched, and player payments would be limited, but it would be a legitimate representative jersey and a reward for some very capable players.

Think of it as the likes of Tom Lucas, Patrick James and Dillon Wihongi shaping up for Queensland up against the likes of Christian Poidevin, Richard Wolfe and MacLean Jones for NSW.

Tom Lucas QLD Country (photo credit: QRU Media - Brendan Hertel)

Tom Lucas – a Sunnybank stalwart. (photo credit: QRU Media – Brendan Hertel)

Wallabies:

Obviously the first thing to go (after Super Rugby) is the Giteau Clause.  With the bulk of our best players now overseas, it is open slather from a Wallaby selection perspective. So that means in the agreed test windows, whatever they end up being, we can pick what should be a full-strength Wallaby team.

I’d hope there will still international tours in July, but we may end up cutting back on games against the UK teams, to allow a game or two against the All Blacks while we are at full strength.  Any game outside the World Rugby decreed test window (such as when the Rugby Championship has traditionally been played) we would be back to picking our local amateurs.

That is not to say those lads wouldn’t get a chance to represent their country. Perhaps we could join the Pacific Nations Champions Cup alongside Fiji and Samoa.  Or we could undertake tours of Europe playing the likes of Romania, Spain and perhaps Italy.    Whether this team travels as a Wallaby team or an Australian Barbarians team, and thus uncapped, would be something for the national union to decide upon.

As it would stand, I think we would see about six to seven tests a year from our best Wallaby team with at least two of those in Australia. Not enough for us to build any great combinations or cohesion and our ratings would be expected to slide, but that would be probably a more realistic representation of where rugby stands here at the moment.

Could the Lions tour still happen in 2025 still? Gees it would be tough under a traditional model.  Going in our favour is that they are getting increasingly compact so perhaps if they could fit a match v Japan on the way over, and we could scrap together an Australian A side, then we might be able to provide them some form of a tour schedule.  The risk is that the European clubs kick up a stink having lost their Lions players and having to be without their Wallaby players too.

As for our chances of hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2027? It would only be possible if the Federal Government largely underwrote the event, which is not unheard of in Australia.  What becomes of the profits would be heavily dictated by any agreement with the Feds, but there should be some clear lessons from post 2003 in terms of future proofing the game.

matt giteau and trc cup wallabies

Say farewell to the Giteau Clause

Sevens

I think Sevens would do well out of this scenario. If we assume that the World Series continues, despite potential travel challenges in a post-COVID world, and the Olympics is the same, then Sevens would be a high-profile component of the national body’s deliverables.  Funding would continue for its High Performance program, flowing from Sport Australia, and I suspect a bit of corporate support will come it’s way as well.

From a player perspective, who knows?  They may benefit as well.  Maybe the draw of the Olympics is enough to keep Isaac Lucas or Harry Wilson or Rob Valetini in Australia for a few years.  They can always chase the euro, yen our pound after they have got a medal around their neck.

Schools

I am intrigued about this.  Perhaps the restructure and resultant refocus of the national body will see them with a greater focus around getting more schools playing the game.  It will be an oily rag program, but necessity is the mother of invention after all.

As for the ‘elite’ level, will the GPS schools still throw money at their rugby program?  I guess it depends as to whether there is still seen as perceived value in a rugby premiership.  I suspect there will be for a time being, as the old boy influence remains a strong and traditional one.  But I imagine these programs could become a more developed breading ground for the NRL clubs to a level far greater than we see today. Think more Brodie Crofts, Pat Carrigans, Kayln Pongas and Damien Cooks.

Ostensibly though, the structure remains. There will still be an Australian Schoolboys team, and probably back to the more traditional approach as run by Australian Schools Rugby rather than an academy structure that was recently created.  They could still tour, subject to funds, and there is no reason why they would not be competitive…as long as we let the leaguies play.  The tours would likely be a recruiting tool for overseas clubs, however.

Joshua Flook scores

Will schools still spend money on rugby moving forward?

Women’s Rugby

I do not think I have to mention them, but there always seems to be an obligation to these days.  Basically, it all remains the same for them.  They remain massively underfunded and basically amateur.  Soon, finally, they will be earning the same as the men.  Bugger all.

The Wrap Up

The more I have watched developments in rugby in Australia, the more I think this is our future.  Obviously, the drama has been heightened of late around COVID and the Captains 10, but we have all been somewhat aware of this for decades now.  I do not see a solution which sees a sudden injection of significant cash because I don’t see a product, domestically, that would warrant it.

I recently did a podcast with @thedeadballarea from twitter and he asked if I would prefer that rugby never went professional.  The question caught me off-guard and I don’t think I was able to answer it comprehensively at the time. But it has been sitting with me since.

We have had 25 years of evidence that professional rugby is unsustainable in Australia despite some outlying success at international and super level.  Before that we had 100 odd years’ worth of evidence that the game really is just a niche sport here.  Why fight that? There’s no point trying to be something we are not.

So, we end up a model not too dissimilar to soccer, whereby the Wallabies are our Socceroos.  Our best players are playing (and getting paid) overseas and only getting together on occasions.  But instead of trying to create the A-League (we’ve failed at both Super Rugby and the NRC), let’s just keep the structure that’s been there all along.

Don’t pretend that club rugby is going to solve everything however and don’t try to pretend it will be anything but a suburban showpiece of competent athletes.  But at least we won’t have to worry about board room backstabbing, inauthentic game day experiences, publicly played broadcast negotiations, entitled-player demands and just constant disappointments surrounding a game we just want to sit back and enjoy.

I say manage your expectations, then lower them a bit more, and get ready for a catalytic evolution of the game we’ve grown to get frustrated by over recent times.

  • Huw Tindall

    Bit glass half empty on this one Reg and to be honest it’s hard to argue with your assessment. If Australia goes down then SANZAAR goes down and that could be a domino effect. We know NZ’s financial model is creaking. They may be dragged down with us to some extent.

    To the question of do you wish Rugby had never gone professional I’d take a bit more optimistic tone. We’ve proven that what we did in the 25 years have proven to be unsustainable but that doesn’t mean if we had done something different it we would have ended up in the same place. There was so much goodwill and money in the first 15 years of professionalism that I like to think, had it been spent more wisely (in retrospect), the game could have been a different beast.

    I don’t know what the answer is but there seem to be too many passionate people and too much money around the game in general not to reshape the game in Australia rather than let it regress to pure amateurism.

  • mortlucky

    Great piece Reg. Strangely I felt quite relaxed after reading this. Perhaps it’s battle fatigue.

    It’s hard to read headlines today about mungo’s impending big tv deal but, Olympics aside, we are an insular nation (sometimes thankfully – see: COVID). The majority just want a club/state game to be the whole show and don’t give a flux capacitor about the national side. Cricket is slightly different but even they would be struggling without India’s enthusiasm. I like the soccer analogy. It could work.
    It’s a shame that we never shook the ‘private school’ tag. Looking back to the future, we never will.

  • Gun

    I feel your pain mate. It’s all very similar to the company I work for. We’ve been totalled by this ‘crisis’ and watching their inability to assess our current circumstances, make a plan and utilise our resources fully is among the most frustrating things I have been involved with. RA are the same and the frustration for people who support the game is manifest in your article.

  • Charcoal

    Couldn’t you be a little more pessimistic?

    • RugbyReg

      yes, the game could die in Australia and we will never hear of it again except to watch it played overseas

  • Cameron Rivett

    There’s a lot of good stuff in here, a real take on the situation without the nostalgia goggles of the late ’90s golden era, but I disagree on two points.

    Obviously, you can’t pay players with money you’re not earning from their appearances, and poorly-paid players will move somewhere they will earn that money. The initial SANZAAR response to this was four national equivalents of Giteau’s Law. South Africa, however, revoked their law when Erasmus took over. They won a World Cup as a result, and they were able to divert money from a handful of existing stars to hundreds of potential stars.

    I agree that Rugby Australia will have no choice but to do this, but like the Springboks I believe that the Wallabies will benefit from having access to their full range of talent, as well as the increased funding for developing young players. I don’t see any reason why the number of Australian tests would be significantly reduced when everyone we’d be playing against would also be obliged to conform to the same international player release windows.

    Secondly, I don’t agree that professional rugby in Australia will completely die. There is a chance that club rugby will become professional or semi-professional, but in any case I think there will be a somewhat professional tournament most likely in the vein of the A-League. Its players will appear in smaller stadiums and for more modest sums, but as I said above the money for a small domestic/regional tournament to blood young talent will be there once the Wallabies and Super Rugby stars have disappeared to Europe. The only question is how far we have to lower the bar.

    In fact, I think the soccer comparison is totally apt. People will have to choose whether to watch the best players in the world at 2am in summer (European club rugby) or to watch third-rate rugby on a winter Saturday afternoon in Australia. European club rugby may even eclipse international rugby as the pinnacle of the game in the long-term. But I do think that there will continue to be low level professional rugby in Australia, and I don’t see why the Wallabies would suffer.

    • Who?

      The soccer comparison’s not apt. Because it doesn’t factor in the massive financial strength of the FFA compared to RA. Because they have a huge player base, and that player base pays higher registration fees than we do in spite of lower overheads. Lose the Super and NRC teams and professional Rugby’s dead in Australia. We don’t have a Frank Lowy. If we can’t retain a national competition started in better times (the NRC), then how can we think we have the capacity to start a new competition with even less money around? And how can we expect clubs run by volunteers have the capacity to create a semi-pro comp..? With the ever-increasing challenges around sport, administration and coaching?
      .
      Further, combination and familiarity, whilst important, isn’t as life and death as Rugby. How do you learn to time a lineout or scrum – massively complex coordinated set pieces – in the time allowed by international Test windows? What’s the soccer equivalent?

  • Jack

    Well said RR. Finally a realistic analysis that takes into account the reduced revenues.

  • paul

    Interesting article, does make you think, and would it be such a bad outcome considering the whole cluster fuck we have now. A couple of points.

    Those overseas clubs are going to have a lot of choice soon, throw in another 100/200 Kiwi & SA players, and those wealthy overseas contracts may not be so big as some predict.

    Its hard not to see some sort of professional game here, they’ll be a few dollars floating around, but what is the best option in spending that money moving forward, do they stick with what worked before, or go with some sort domestic comp, like you say we don’t have a great track record in that department.

    • ATrain

      That is a great point Paul.

      There is a limited amount of teams and places at that top level in the UK (12 teams), France (14) and in Top 14 (12 – 2 are filled with SA teams) and Japan (14) – so 52 teams in total with say 30 layers per squad – 1560 professional players at the top level of club rugby in the Northern Hemisphere. I saw a number recently that suggested we had 192 professional players here in Australia (not sure if that includes Men’s and Women’s 7 or not but lets call it 30 per team for the East Coast teams – 120 in total. Tipping 120 – 150 new professional players into a market of just 1,560 would add an additional 8 – 10%. When you think that probably less than half these positions would be available to foreign or southern hemisphere players it might be adding up to 20% on the supply side. Start adding in NZ and SA players and you are increasing supply by maybe 50%.

      On the Demand side, journalists like Stuart Barnes and Nick Bishop are adamant that the financial pressures on the UK clubs will start to bite and that players can no longer expect the big contracts they have been getting – even with their billionaire club owners.

      If this is the case, then maybe a player like Michael Hooper becomes a $300 – 400k player rather than a $1.2 M and players currently earning $400k get $100 – 150k. Under that scenario, perhaps a domestic competition becomes more financially sustainable and more accurately reflects the competition’s capacity to pay. At the moment, we are trying to run a competition in the Southern Hemisphere based on Northern Hemisphere wages and capacity to pay (that according to NH writers doesn’t reflect their capacity to pay anyway).

      I don’t wish players lower wages. I think they deserve to get a significant share of the revenue they draw. But no solution that doesn’t recognise the basic economics that underpin it will be sustainable in the longer term.

      • RF

        We have a professional soccer league with a standard of football which is so poor it would be outside the top 40 of the UEFA Co-efficient, which excludes leagues below a country’s top tier. It is diabolical.

        The rugby league here would the the highest concentration of ability and style of play in the world. Of course we have a product here

    • Who?

      I completely agree with you about the value of Australian players in a limited player market in Europe and Japan. Closing 120 contracts in Australia doesn’t mean they all find a job overseas. Who knows what happens to the Kiwis; the Saffas would likely just transfer their remaining Super teams to the NH.
      .
      But whilst the current model for Super Rugby (all models since Super 18 and its horrifically implemented conference system) is dramatically failing, I don’t see any professional rugby continuing without those teams. And I don’t see semi-professional rugby continuing without the NRC teams. Because it’s a big job to run a semi-pro comp. The NRC is significantly assisted in terms of expenditure by the fact it can utilise facilities from the Super clubs (reducing both infrastructure and staffing costs compared to a truly stand alone comp). Remove those levels, and suddenly it’s all on volunteer clubs to put together a semi-pro comp.
      .
      Any removal of Super and NRC teams will see a complete lack of viewership to justify sponsorships. I know my local (regional) competitions have sponsors who regularly commit, then question what sort of value they get for their investment. The only ones who stick around are those who are effectively using their businesses to fund their own or their children’s clubs.
      .
      Then factor in that reducing wages will immediately increase the likelihood of players looking to League (in spite of the distinct possibility they may need to notably drop their own salary pool), and the constant undermining of the game by those who have been amongst the greatest beneficiaries of the game…
      .
      I’m starting to think we’re gone.

  • ATrain

    This is the most articulate, comprehensive and well written article I have ever read on GAGR and, in my view, probably the best I have read on Australian rugby in the last 12 – 18 months. Some may read it as overly pessimistic but I think, given all the information available, it is probably realistic.

    While many here won’t agree, Alan Jones has, amongst the vitriolic character assassination of unfavoured administrators, been calling for part of this – removing the Giteau Law, allowing a free flow of players to Europe/Japan (and letting the rest of the world pay for our professional players) while ensuring access to them for international windows.

    The game that Reg describes is the game that I first encountered as a rugby league “convert” in the late 1980s/early 1990s. How a largely amateur/semi-professional game would survive in the midst of a professional global game is yet to be seen. Reg has given us his answers and I would agree with perhaps 90% of it. What might become of the club game, how an aspect of professionalism or semi-professionalism might be introduced and grow over time is one area that he didn’t address? I wonder if large European clubs may eventually do as Manchester City did with Melbourne Heart/Melbourne City and buy or invest in local Australian clubs to build alliances and develop players. Australian rugby was perhaps caught of guard by the speed of the move from amateurism to professionalism and, though we were the most successful team in that early professional area, that in itself probably prevented us from addressing inadequacies in the building blocks of a truly professional game.

    I am a bit tired of rugby (and probably all sports) feeling that they have to sell their souls to the highest bidder to survive in a professional world. Years ago it was corporate sponsors, then it became TV rights and broadcast deals and the next phase seems to be either billionaire philanthropy or private equity firms. Each of these groups realistically needs something – nothing can realistically comes for free.

    Thanks again Reg for a fantastic article. I think we need to cut our cloth here to what we can afford and your article is a great piece to start that discussion.

    • RugbyReg

      cheers ATrain

    • Who?

      Your concept of foreign investment is an interesting one. I guess the question is just one of whether or not they see value here?
      .
      Your point about professionalism surprising Rugby in Australia is also one that’s incredibly pertinent whilst also inaccurate. Depending on where you look. If you look at the teams, and the support structures placed around them (run by people like Macqueen, Connolly, etc), then Australian Rugby was amongst the fastest to adapt. Because they could how to run professional teams playing contact sports learn from the codes around them dealing with similar issues. However, the off field work – the administrative structures – were completely unprepared for the change, and remain unprepared for the change. Further, I’ve seen it argued that the few governance changes made since professionalism – particularly the Arbib changes – were for the worse. And that structure has led us to financial ruin, and has constantly undermined itself, never moreso than at present.

      • ATrain

        yes you and Reg are right….as Adolf said to Eva “pass me one of those pills after you’ve had one” :( –

        Yes very good points about professionalism etc. I would agree players and coaches and the “football departments” were probably the best prepared of any country when we moved into professionalism. The coaching structure under the likes of Dick Marks, the Rothmans coaching programme etc. We lacked the provincial competition that has backed NZ and SA (SA had no other choice as they had no international rugby so the national comp was there only option).

        A lot of speculation in the Tele today about which players they will be taking across to rugby league quoting Bob Fulton and Rick Stuart. I think the headline is “Picking over the Carcass of Rugby”. But I think there might be a bit of hubris in this. They might pick up some of the school kids coming straight out but, for the bigger names, the foreign competitions will have a greater capacity to pay.

        We will have to see how it plays out. If we had a Lions Tour and a World Cup over the next 8 years that would bring money in. Maybe it’s a bit too early to adopt the most dire view in terms of the end of professionalism.

        The international situation for rugby, I feel, still has better prospects then league. The international game will survive without Australia and while ever it exists there will always be a prospect of something reforming here. The West may be a light in the darkness if Forrest continues to support it and, who knows, he might look to bring in the Western Sydney team he initially planned for GRR.

        But I think RR’s article is a good place to start. If we were to lose all professional rugby, what happens and how do we plot a course back from there that preserves the best elements of the game and gives us a structure that allows us to be competitive at a national level but is economically sustainable. It is still very very early days in this whole thing yet and there is a long way to go.

        • Who?

          If we lose professional rugby, I don’t see a path back. Ever. Because it’s not like money available to professional sport is increasing. TV Rights are shrinking (I expect part of the NRL’s new deal is based on being nearly the only professional sport available worldwide in a pandemic, with the expectation that the rights will be funded by on-selling them – after all, Foxtel borrowed A$500 Million in the last year), the established players aren’t going to miss a cent. And whilst Rugby’s painted as being elitist and played by snobs, those supposed snobs don’t seem to have connections that channel funding into the game. Because the marketing value just isn’t there in comparison to the other sports.
          .
          I just hope we can hold on long enough to reach the Lions tour… :-(

        • ATrain

          Read Bret Harris’ latest two articles in the Guardian and you will find a great deal of support for your points – and perhaps a different perspective.

  • Hugh Cavill

    Great article Reg, nice to see an informed and articulate view in this complete mess of a debate.

    The question I pose to you is this – what happens to New Zealand and South African rugby in this scenario?

    New Zealand lacks the population base to sustain a professional domestic competition, so they would need to create a competition with South Africa. It’s not a radical assumption the Saffers would go for this, and thus we keep Super Rugby without Australian teams.

    Continuing that assumption, we then have a viable professional competition going on around us (maybe without the top tier stars, but viable nonetheless).

    You can then see the possibility that we’d be able to cobble together two lower-budget professional teams to compete in this format. Maybe they are more like A-League sides, with a mixture of young talent and returning veterans, but it keeps the Waratahs and Reds alive.

    I don’t know the numbers but walking through your scenario I can see this shaking out to keep some professional rugby footprint here.

    • paul

      I may be missing something, but is that just not a continuation of Super rugby.

      • Hugh Cavill

        Yes. Because if you assume Super Rugby will continue without us (not at all guaranteed, I might add), then would it not be logical for us to at least have one or two teams in it?

        • MalachyBernard

          1 or 2 teams at most seems to be the way, given we were struggling with 5, a little better with 4 before the crisis and now have an oily rag barely enough for 1 or 2.

          Fox will step in once there is more certainty around the relaxation of restrictions. By that time RA (if it is not already insolvent) will be in such a weakened position that Fox can dictate terms.

        • Perth girl

          Yep less is more has worked well in the past hasn’t it! It was supposed to solve everything in 2017

        • Who?

          Didn’t you notice that Aussie teams won Super Rugby in 2018 and 2019?! Oh, what, they didn’t?! That must be on Twiggy not giving the Tahs enough Force players. :-P

        • MalachyBernard

          I actually preferred the Rebels to go instead of the Force. Having said that we need to recognize our Financial position and brand (post World Cup) is severely weakened and we have less to bargain with. Therefore there is less $$$ therefore less players.

    • RugbyReg

      Thanks Hugh.

      I expect South Africa to go north as has been mooted since the late 90s.

      NZL has the competencies, finances and brand to do their own thing.

      You are right that this may include a couple of teams from Australia but I don’t think it is anything we can bank on. The above was about us just trying to control what we can control without trying to be too big for our abilities.

      The other variable in all this comes from Andy Marinos’ statement for SANZAR last week that, at this stage, the format remains the same for next year as that’s what the agreement has been made to deliver. I can only assume that the agreement is the broadcast deal that both NZL and SAF had brokered with their broadcasters.

      We don’t have a broadcast deal so what happens if we don’t get one? We won’t be able to participate. If the competition can’t be delivered than SAF and NZL’s deals fall through too. Because of us. Law suits are not out of the equation if that eventuates and I can’t imagine them wanting anything else to do with us.

      How’s that for even more pessimistic?

      • Hugh Cavill

        I can’t see that happening, far more likely we negotiate a cut-price deal with Fox. At some point it will be a viable commercial venture for a broadcaster (given the demand still there for test rugby).

        I’d be interested in the Kiwi perspective on this. I think doing their own thing would be possible but I just can’t see the $$$ to keep all of their stars in place. They are better placed than us for sure, but they are still limited in what they can do locally.

      • Dud Roodt

        I’m pretty sure the FS broadcast deal includes the 2021 season (and therefore the rights that were being negotiated were from the end of next SR season onwards) – but I could be mistaken.
        Which would mean that all three SANZAR broadcast deals are up at the same time which would make some logical sense in terms of legality when negotiating broadcast deals across three (and more) countries

        • RugbyReg

          nup. we are without a broadcast deal from next year onwards.

          SAF and NZL have theirs in place. We don’t

        • Dud Roodt

          My god that seems like some serious bush league negotiation (from all parties) – why wouldn’t SANZAAR insist that all governing bodies align their TV deals in case there are format changes?

        • RugbyReg

          they are all aligned. It’s just that NZ and SAF have finalised their broadcast deal for next year onwards. We haven’t

  • Sequel

    Reg never picked you as a member of the doomsday cult! Great article thought provoking to say the least.

    Good points but I think you undersell the value in the international game. Crowds and TV is strong in the UK and Europe, Japan World Cup was massive and after that Japan comp was big, also the university scene. US is growing and could be anything in 5 years time. Not too mention the sport is an Olympic one and is one of the sports that embraces the women’s game. Also the games governing body has cash and a will to support a professional sport.

    It would be incomprehensible to me that Australia cannot be a key player in this.

    Personally I think pro rugby in Australia is possible if you get the product right. I think that product needs to be smaller than it is right now, but it can work as part of a ‘product portfolio’.

    Have a listen to Fraser Neill on the Rugby Ruckus podcast. He was CEO of NSW rugby when Super Rugby started. It was clear to him that Super Rugby was a niche / premium product geared for pay tv.
    When managed that way it makes sense (to me). It has been turned into a volume product under the assumption that ‘more is more’. It turns out it is not. We have seen the quality of the game (too many teams) and then the competition cease to make sense – thus killing the product.

    For mine one of the biggest challenges is the international calendar, as adhering to this and being Wallaby focused limits our thinking for how we handle our domestic comps. The mid year test window means we are forced to have Super Rugby before we have club rugby – its back to front.

    In my dream world I would love all the competitions aligned so they could build from one to the next, culminating in Wallabies games. I’d love to see local rugby (QPR, Shute etc) have their comp. Then roll into a national comp based on the winners of the local comp – short and sharp. Then into ‘rep’ professional rugby, top performers in the local comps are selected for one of 3 or 4 Aussie sides,Reds, Waratahs, Brumbies / Force, they then play some NZ and pending the cost model Japan and the Pacific Islands teams. A maximum 10 or 12 team comp. Pro10 / Pro12 has a ring to it! Then internationals. I would be looking to get as many of the pros playing club as possible, this calendar allows that. I understand all of this is tough to fit in any calendar but I reckon with some tweaks you could get it fairly close.

    The pro stuff would need to be much smaller in terms of costs, as would the pay packets of the players. Yes this may well see some players move off shore but the buckets of money in UK and Europe are not endless. If more players are available then economic demand theory tells me there will be downward pressure of salary levels.

    I certainly agree all is not well with rugby but I am yet to believe all is lost with the pro stuff. I know the numbers of kids signing on at my junior club in Brisbane boomed the year of and after the Reds winning the SR title so there is surely something in that.

    Up the Bullsharks!

  • pfs

    Great realism. But we need to avoid the A-League analogy with European soccer.

    We need to be aiming for a Big-Bash analogy. Where local talent plays in local professional comp for a short window, after which they are permitted to play in Europe (ie IPL).

    Sort out a window so players can play Aus (perhaps with NZ too) and then also play Europe/Japan. Then return for tests.

    Players can earn the money they need. The Aus professional comp will be cheaper and shorter. The Super Comp is too long and loses its way with break for test window.

    It’s a subtle difference between what I’ve called the A-leage v Big bash model.

    I’m worried if Aus/NZ were to relinquish the branding and fan expectation of professional level players here, we will never get it back.

    However, you could get fans pumped for a 6-8 week season of brumbies v tahs v reds v force (and or maybe some NZ teams).

    Especially if the window is well chosen (like the earlier Super rugby games in Feb- March), or as a lead up to the Southern Hemisphere test season so all the players can return home anyway and use the shorter comp as Wallabies trials.

    • Cameron Rivett

      While I really like this idea, the issue is that cricket is a much less physically taxing sport than rugby. English teams play 22 games a season in the Premiership, while Pro14 teams play 21 games a season. There are European games and finals in addition to these. Expecting these same players to participate in further Super Rugby and Wallaby games is not feasible. This solution would only work with a lot of international cooperation to reduce the number of games Australians are available for, and I don’t see this happening due to the influence of the rich European clubs.

  • dru

    I think we can do better than this, but will actually do much worse if reality doesn’t sink in. Which makes this a very important article.

    Thank you Reg.

  • Hoss

    Thought provoking RR, but i vote in the negative overall.

    What the beer flu has shown is that predictions and planning are akin to painting the Ponderosa in a category 5 twister – shit ends up everywhere and you have to start again further behind from whence you began.

    I would agree that C19 is a time for reflection for RA and stakeholders and considered analysis of ‘all that was previous’ prior to Chinese bat rooters infecting the known cosmos. I would also respectfully suggest that the upside of C19 (you must look for positives in shite situations) is a once in a generation chance (hopefully) to reset many practises, beliefs, structures, ideologies, methodologies and systems.

    Is the current system broken – yep, completely and utterly shagged. The frailties and inherent weaknesses of current structures, comp’s, player payments, cash flows ad nauseam has been laid bare by the financial wrecking ball of C19. But i don’t know that shrinking to greatness, as you propose, is in sync with evolution.

    What are the answers ? Many far more learned on here can contribute to this conversation. For mine it starts in our backyard first. It involves and engages all states, yes, even far Western NSW, it brings the sheep-shaggers into the fold, it reaches out to our PI cousins who we have pillaged for far too long, it opens doors to our South East Asian markets and the exponential growth that lies on our doorsteps. It farewells the descendants of the Dutch Dirt Diggers and wishes them well on their Northern Hemisphere Adventures.

    We have a unique opportunity to reset the dial and perhaps better shape and control or destiny as a code than anytime in the last 25 years and i would completely agree that when building a house the foundations are the most important step in ensuring the house is solid. No one thing will MARGA (Make Rugby Great Again – Copyright ‘Hoss Industries P/L’) but get the basics right. Take the time C19 affords us to make considered choices, engage with ALL those who play a role in what we hope Rugby to look like in the future for Australia and our neighbours. Get these numerous ‘small steps’ right and before long you have made a number of really good steps and voila, the Ponderosa has been completely painted and from the ashes the rugby phoenix rises.

    • KwAussie Rugby Lover

      Mate I agree but pessimistic about the ability of the power hungry, “my way or the highway” wankers trying to fuck RA just so they can live in their past glories to come to the party. I feel their MARGA involves them in control of their local club, state teams and Wallabies and nothing else will suffice.
      Personally I think the start point is restructuring the RA board and getting some governance and good practices in that gives a fair system not a parochial state based system.

    • Yowie

      “…it brings the sheep-shaggers into the fold flock,”

      Corrected above.

    • Brisneyland Local

      Bravo old boy!

  • While it’s fairly hard to argue with your analysis, I’d like to suggest it’s a bit parochial as a get out.

    New Zealand, Wales and England, for different reasons, may be the only countries that can come out of this current crisis, dust themselves off, and pick things up pretty much as is. NZ and Wales because rugby is their national obsession and they are just willing to sacrifice to do so, England because they are rich enough at the RFU to do so. There may be some screams of pain from the players as the clubs restructure their finances in the short term – with the exception of Exeter they’ve been loss-making for years and they’ve had to take hefty pay cuts, they may not go back to stupid club salaries, but the game there is rich enough to cope still.

    Elsewhere, those conditions don’t apply, and people will be looking to change things. Add to that, after Pichot’s challenge for the leadership of WR, Beaumont is actually willing to shake things up and seems to have some support to do so.

    I think the next 5 years or so will see a significant restructuring to the world game. That’s going to lead, essentially to things like a global calendar, even if it has a different brand name, and that will lead to a restructuring of the competitions under it too. Currently that looks like SR and a strange amalgam of the Pro14, Top 14, Premiership and ECR. What it will look like in 5 years time I’m not sure. I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see an “Oceania League” with teams from Australia, NZ, Japan and PI, an “America’s League” with the Jaguares, USA, Canada, Uruguay and some others (maybe a couple of teams from each country?), maybe something weird with an African League and SA playing some teams there, some in Europe and maybe some in the Oceania League too, but basing them in Perth perhaps? They seem to believe they can run a lot of SR-quality sides, although personally I don’t believe they can sustain that number, but that’s a different conversation.

    Now, on a different note, I 100% agree the current system is horribly broken in Australia, it needs better representation of the actual membership, it needs a complete overhaul of the finances and, as is nearly always the case, it needs to have the old boys network dug up and exterminated with extreme prejudice. Weedkiller is a good option for old boys. That may seem harsh, but just like weeds, they propagate what’s good for them, not what’s good for the flower bed as a whole, or in this case the game as a whole. Cutting off Twiggy’s rescue package for WA was dumb for example and really made the case that it wasn’t about the money, that was just their excuse to avoid seeing their power diluted.

    I think it’s going to be a really rough few years, it’s basically going to be a revolution within RA and they’re rarely pretty. It might not be fought with literal knives and guns, but that doesn’t make it any prettier. But if the right side wins, it can still work out OK in the medium to long term.

    • Caeliv Donnelly

      I can’t see how this idea of trans-continental competition will survive long term. It goes too much against the idea of player welfare for me. Its ok at the Pro-14 level as it kind of a developmental thing for the players that go – but very few of the top Pro’s are heading off in a plane for 12 hours to play 2 games and come home in a fortnight. I can’t for the life of me understand how a top Pro from Aus/Nz can go play in Argentina and maybe SA and return and be ready to go again the follow week. It has to be career shortening. Bit off topic.

      • We need to see the fine detail, I agree. But as I understand it, the idea isn’t that the Rebels (say) compete against the Dragons (from Newport, Gwent) on a regular basis.

        You’d still have a regional club contest. There would be something similar to the Shute Shield in Australia, the NPC in NZ and Super Rugby in Oceania, and the Pro14, Top 14, Premiership and ECR in Europe. Quite what happens to SA is up in the air.

        Test matches though, they’d be restructured and the matches in the tier under them would be reorganised to fit around them better. We wouldn’t have the June test window causing a break in the SR season just as it reaches its climax. We equally wouldn’t have the November test window causing a break in the NH season as it does at the moment. The 6N and TRC might continue, broadly unchanged, as they’re seen as internal matters and they don’t mess with the lower tier competitions of the two hemispheres – that’s an out-and-out lie for the 6N but it’s now programmed in to squad sizes and squad rotation.

        I’ve heard rumours, I was going to say “I’ve seen a plan” but that is only because I tend to write in visual metaphor and I don’t want to suggest I’ve actually laid eyes on any sort of even unofficial document, of a sort of super-club-playoff match. Saracens v Crusaders (using last’s years SR and ERC champions) for “best club rugby team in the world.” The suggestion I’ve seen would depend a lot on what’s actually implemented for the leagues, but has basically been some flavour of 2-way or 4-way playoff in a neutral or rotating venue. Very different to a regular long haul from Dunedin to Glasgow and back!

  • Who?

    Great article Reg. One quick point – I don’t think Brodie Croft ever played Rugby..? He played for the League club in the town where I was president of the Rugby club when he graduated, and he attended my kids’ former school (which was founded by a massive Broncos fan, has a principal who started his career at Newington College, but only engages with the AFL! He didn’t attend one of our Rugby schools), graduating in a year with a mate’s son.
    .
    Not having a go – just checking. Because it’s a massive wake up call, one that the fools who are squabbling over the crumbs of the former feast that was Rugby administration in Australia would be well advised to read. But I can’t imagine they will, because they’re more interested in fighting over who gets to sit in the big chair than whether that chair’s left with any relevance. :-(

    • RugbyReg

      Brodie Croft played in the famous 2014 Churchie first XV that included Ponga, Mason, Perese etc

      • Who?

        Oh, ok. He never played a game up here, and his family was still (heavily) involved in the League club when I last looked. So I don’t look at him in quite the same way as some of those others (i.e. he was a leaguie through and through who just happened to play a tiny bit of Rugby).

  • KwAussie Rugby Lover

    Nice write up Reg and thanks for the effort of doing this. I’m going rugby crazy at the moment and watching old matches on YouTube just too get a fix.
    The only real issue I have with this is that I don’t think the NH, Japan and America have enough positions for all these players wanting to go and make big bucks. I also don’t think all of them will be wanted by either the overseas clubs or the NRL. I think that worldwide rugby players are going to have to accept that their wages are going to drop and while they will be able to make a good living, for a long time the big million dollar pays packets are going to be a thing of the past

  • Caeliv Donnelly

    While participation in the Super Rugby competition may not be viable long term, I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to get your best team out in the Rugby Championship. The Rugby Championship with Japan in an extended 5 nations could be a cash cow if properly exploited, and the greater game in Austrailia is still going to need significant funding going forward. If you kill both the major professional tournaments its hard to see how you can fund the game properly in the future. Up here in Europe the whole of professional rugby is propped up by the revenues generated by the Six nations. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  • Human

    If it were not already clear, the work of Jessica Halloran is exposing the truth behind the persistent lack of transparency favoured by Clyne and Castle, et al..the Emperor was naked – who’d have guessed. $500M in 4 years? Only a banker or Christopher Skase could waste so much money in such a short time. The corporatisation of Australian Rugby lies at the base of this failure….just as it does in many a business failure. Once the people with passion are excluded and the spivs move in, it is only a matter of time before the whole thing fails…only luck determines how long that failure may take to transpire. Castle ran out of luck, but, if she were truly ethical she would have walked away 2 or 3 years ago. The writing was on the wall when the first Foxtel deal was signed and most rugby disappeared from FTA TV; the loss of culture and purpose was evident when Link was forced out and Beale was retained; the Folau fiasco was just another symptom that RA had lost its way.
    PS…I would have backed Wigg and Carroll over Clarke…the organisation needs radical surgery not a massage with a velvet glove.
    RReg….great assessment, Thankyou. All rugby players will take a pay cut (supply and demand); Australian players more so (apart from a very few).
    RA should listen to Nutta….’meat and potatoes first, boyo…’.

    • Brumby Runner

      I’m sure you don’t mean to lump Raelene Castle with the original Foxtel deal, no FTA and the Beale/Patston affair, but that’s the way it reads. And to call for her resignation at a time before she had even started with RA is mystifying.

      Have a go at Clyne as much as you wish, but when criticising RC make sure the matters you raise are those that happened on her watch.

      • Human

        BR…those issues were mentioned as examples of RA’s failings, not specifically laid at Castle’s feet. She inherited a lot of crap and did not seem to do much to reduce the pile.

    • John Tynan

      I don’t doubt Wigg and carroll would have been a good team, but it is incomprehensible that RA could appoint them with no due process, and rightfully, they declined to do so. The Parrot and Co. can’t pick and choose when and who they apply their governance process to – one person’s political expediency is another person’s North Sydney Cabal.

      • Human

        I agree with the sentiment JT, but am not convinced that there has been due process and good governance in much that RA has done in recent times.

        • Who?

          It seems that the only due process RA’s clearly engaged in recent times – attempting to have an open rights process – has been the subject of more complaint than almost anything else. Well, complaint from those who’ve made it their business to attempt to pull the game to pieces.

        • Ads

          Agree, but beside the point mate. Two wongs don’t make a white.

    • Perth girl

      When will Clyne and Pulver be called to account for what they have done? WA have been calling for this since 2017

    • Who?

      How could Castle have walked away 2 to 3 years ago? She only had the CEO role for 28 months!

  • Sequel

    Great article thought provoking to say the least Reg.

    Good points but I think you undersell the value in the international game. Crowds and TV is strong in the UK and Europe, Japan World Cup was massive and after that Japan comp was big, also the university scene. US is growing and could be anything in 5 years time. Not too mention the sport is an Olympic one and is one of the sports that embraces the women’s game. Also the games governing body has cash and a will to support a professional sport.

    It would be incomprehensible to me that Australia cannot be a key player in this.

    Personally I think pro rugby in Australia is possible if you get the product right. I think that product needs to be smaller than it is right now, but it can work as part of a ‘product portfolio’.

    Have a listen to Fraser Neill on the Rugby Ruckus podcast. He was CEO of NSW rugby when Super Rugby started. It was clear to him that Super Rugby was a niche / premium product geared for pay tv.
    When managed that way it makes sense (to me). It has been turned into a volume product under the assumption that ‘more is more’. It turns out it is not. We have seen the quality of the game (too many teams) and then the competition cease to make sense – thus killing the product.

    For mine one of the biggest challenges is the international calendar, as adhering to this and being Wallaby focused limits our thinking for how we handle our domestic comps. The mid year test window means we are forced to have Super Rugby before we have club rugby – its back to front.

    In my dream world I would love all the competitions aligned so they could build from one to the next, culminating in Wallabies games. I’d love to see local rugby (QPR, Shute etc) have their comp. Then roll into a national comp based on the winners of the local comp – short and sharp. Then into ‘rep’ professional rugby, top performers in the local comps are selected for one of 3 or 4 Aussie sides,Reds, Waratahs, Brumbies / Force, they then play some NZ and pending the cost model Japan and the Pacific Islands teams. A maximum 10 or 12 team comp. Pro10 / Pro12 has a ring to it! Then internationals. I would be looking to get as many of the pros playing club as possible, this calendar allows that. I understand all of this is tough to fit in any calendar but I reckon with some tweaks you could get it fairly close.

    The pro stuff would need to be much smaller in terms of costs, as would the pay packets of the players. Yes this may well see some players move off shore but the buckets of money in UK and Europe are not endless. If more players are available then economic demand theory tells me there will be downward pressure of salary levels.

    I certainly agree all is not well with rugby but I am yet to believe all is lost with the pro stuff. I know the numbers of kids signing on at my junior club in Brisbane boomed the year of and after the Reds winning the SR title so there is surely something in that.

    Up the Bullsharks!

  • Reds Revival

    While I understand the reasons for your harsh reality, I can’t help feeling that it is like a well meaning parent who says to their kid, “You’re really not very good. Maybe you should give up on your dream to play at a higher level. I am only saying this to protect you from being hurt”.
    It is interesting reading the comments that it is almost 50/50 on who thinks there will be a professional game, and who thinks that we will shrink back to club rugby. Only time will tell, but I would definitely love to see the game still being played professionally. Even if it is an expanded GRR.

  • paul

    Saw an article in Rugby Pass regards SA participation in the PRO-14, pretty much rubbishing there presence, mainly why teams from Europe would want to travel such distances.

    And with the fall-out from this co-vid virus, I’m just not sure South Africa will have the option to go north, especially there domestic teams.

    • Who?

      Excellent point, Paul. Who knows where this lands?

  • Isaac Cuskelly

    Thoughts on what funding Aus rugby did have being given to premier clubs in major states to ‘pay’ their top players. Say 4 players per club in each state competition ~ $60-80K per club for match payments. They wouldn’t be on super rugby wages but would thereby be able to work during the week and get match payments on top of their normal wage. Much like the country rugby league model which has been so successful. your best players would head overseas to earn better money but I am sure many players would stay in Aus given the opportunity to play club rugby and get paid a bit to do it. That way your super rugby players would turn out for their club week in, week out and the State teams would be a better representation of the best players of that year. Kids would grow up with their heroes running out for their local club and aspire to play premier rugby first not the wallabies as it is in NZ. The long term contracts that Rugby AU did up are ludacris. 5 year contracts are not a good investment and force selection decisions to be made on financial not form grounds. You could then have a Aus Super Series with the top two teams from each state competiting in a shorter televised series and pick your wallabies from that. Make your existing clb infrastructure the backbone of your future model.

    • Who?

      A significant part of the problem is that we’re still running a hybrid of amateur administration and professional player pathways. Saying we’d go back to paying clubbies match payments doesn’t solve the issues with the administration, which are the problem that’s brought us to this point. Instead, we’re giving amateur organisations run by volunteers money to pay for players. Paying players means extra administration work, it all snowballs.
      It’s also worth considering just how successful the country league model is. How many country league club players (i.e. people who are 20 and still playing in the country) make it to the professional game? I get the impression that the vast majority of the talent that makes it to the NRL is picked out of the clubs – including the country clubs – well before they’re old enough to be paid by their clubs. I’m not confident that structure would give us a system that would send many players overseas (which would be necessary to ensure sufficient players of high enough quality to avoid slipping out of the top 20 on the WR charts).

  • Perth girl

    I note the exclusion of the fact professional rugby will be played here in WA in your writeup but what’s new!

    • Yowie

      Apart from in this bit you mean?

      Perhaps there will be a chance to play against the Force or even some of the teams touring for Global Rapid Rugby.

      • Ads

        Nah she meant this bit

        Trans-Tasman – Asian Pacific – National Club Comp – Global Rapid Rugby expansion – State of Origin – expanded NRC.

      • Hoss

        In all of the Covidiocy and travel lockdowns it hasn’t been able to shut down the greatest export WA has, their whine.

      • Perth girl

        GRR hasn’t even received a invitation yet let alone details of the comp!

    • Who?

      That’s because RugbyWA isn’t in a state of crisis, and the article is about the disaster around RA, its administration, and its current viewpoint which is focused around Super Rugby, having no influence over GRR.

      • Perth girl

        Actually RWA has been in a state of crisis since 2017 when the Force was canned leaving RWA with million dollar debts to the state gov for stadium upgrade and no income to pay them!

        • Who?

          Financial crisis, but not governance and competence crisis like RA.

        • Perth girl

          No sympathy here, should have seen it coming years ago! Head in the sand attitude from Eastern States

    • RugbyReg

      don’t be so precious. I mention the Force and GRR regularly. They’re doing their own thing without any input from RA, so why are they relevant here?

      Personally I don’t think the GRR model is sustainable nor a quality broadcast product. But again, that’s my perspective.

      • Perth girl

        It’s a better model for than the alternative!

  • Andrew Luscombe

    It’s ironic that Australia, and NSW in particular, was the driver to taking the game professional. The NSWRU simply declared the game was professional in response to efforts by Kerry Packer to begin a world professional competition. The rest of the world then had a vote and decided to follow. For the first 15-17 years, Australia did relatively well out of it. Since then, it’s been nothing but whinging about the implications. Hopefully, Australia isn’t leading world rugby into oblivion now.

    What we’ve had so far in much of the world is professionalism for amateurs. By that I mean that we’ve had professionalism designed by people with an amateur mindset. It’s really just payment of players tacked on to an amateur administration and structure. It worked well at first for a sport loved for it’s amateur ethos. But other sports picked up on the handshaking at the end of games, respect for referees, etc. and enforced these things in a professional way with professional player codes of conduct and contracts. Rugby is still a sport with a largely amateur minded audience and amateur structures and conditions – does any rugby competition really know how to run a salary cap? It’s only in the last few years that salary caps are dawning on some leagues – 25 years after professionalism! Super Rugby and the Pro14 are run to develop players for the national teams.

    Australia has as much sports management expertise as any country in the world. You’d think that if anyone can work out how to proceed, it’d be us.

    I would think that if we did just stop participating in Super Rugby, Twiggy, or someone, would fill the void. I think there is enough of a market for some sort of national league if SR is gone and makes space for it. You can run these things quite cheap if you aren’t trying to compete with other leagues for talent. Then we’d have a league that was run as a league, not one that undermined itself by acting as a feeder to another level and playing games in the middle of the night.

    • paul

      To me the issue has always been, any domestic content is ultimately to compromised by the Test calendar/requirements to be sustainable.

    • Who?

      You can run these things quite cheap if you aren’t trying to compete with other leagues for talent.

      Do you mean if you’re not trying to compete with the European market, or other codes who have a massive history of stealing our best players..?

      • Andrew Luscombe

        Given that overseas leagues can pay as much as the NRL or more, and they are more likely to want the full range of union players, I’m not sure it makes much difference if the NRL is taking some. Such a league would always be seen as second rate, but it could probably run like most national soccer, basketball, and icehockey leagues in the world.

        You can view amateurism as being a salary cap of zero, or an individual salary limit of zero. I wonder if world rugby could set a maximum individual player payment throughout the world of say $200,000 PA. Would that fix a lot of problems?

        It seems silly for leagues in the same sport to be undermining each other. It doesn’t benefit any of them. The English Premiership would appeal to English fans almost as much if it only had English players in it. From a league point of view, the money paid to foreign players isn’t worthwhile.

        Perhaps all nations can ban foreign imports, or limit them in some way.

        There must be a way for the rugby world to coordinate for the good of the sport.

        A private owner of the sport would do that. They’d only have the threat of theoretical break away league to keep them honest. World Rugby ought to take the same view.

        • Who?

          Overseas leagues don’t have a need for a further 120 players who aren’t all Test quality. And there’s no guarantee of how they will work financially, given they’re going to have a much tougher time of getting back to a revenue receiving mode.
          Further, it may not make a difference to our front row stocks, but if we lose all our quality blindsides/eighthmen and backs, it’s effectively the same outcome.
          .
          World Rugby doesn’t have near enough power to set international player payment caps. In fact, it’s questionable whether that would be legal (restraint of trade?). But they don’t have the power to force that on national bodies, and many national bodies (like the RFU and FFR) don’t have anywhere near the required capacity to do that.
          .
          Given some of the European leagues are at least partially privately owned, they definitely see value in undermining their competitor. They want to have the best product to sell – if that can be achieved by poaching players from your competitor league, why not do that?
          .
          Foreign imports are already limited, which is another reason why the NRL’s a bigger threat than Europe when we’re talking about a non-professional level for the game locally.
          Amateurism changes not just pay rates, but also support structures, governance structures, capacity to train to high skill level…

        • Andrew Luscombe

          The problem is loosing all the test quality players overseas and having the local comp be percieved as totally second rate. The non test players aren’t important from that point of view.

          World Rugby doesn’t have the power because national bodies don’t give it to them. If enough national bodies saw the benefits in coordinating player pay or salary caps or whatever, then it would have the power. For this to happen a large body of rugby administrstors need to realise how professional sport works. They don’t yet, but after 25 years there are some signs.

          Private ownership is one way for that knowledge to penetrate rugby. Companies are even more likely to want to coordinate across markets than elected admin bodies where there are benefits to the owners.

          An example might be would a private owner of a dominant Australian league want to merge with a dominant NZ league and form a single transnational league. Probably – the total revenue would be a bit more than each one separately added up. But I can’t see RA merging with NZ rugby.

        • Who?

          The national bodies don’t have the power to regulate wages in their own countries because the clubs have more power than the national bodies in several financially important nations, notably England and France. RA, the NZRU, the IRFU, and WRU could give WR that authority, but if England, France and Japan don’t come to the party, it means nothing. And those three national bodies don’t control the player market in their countries.
          .
          That’s all part of the amateur structures governing a professional code argument. The ARL was created by the clubs, but the ARL and NRL tell clubs what’s going to happen. The clubs might get a bit ancy, but we haven’t seen open revolt, because the bodies created by the clubs have to act in the interest of all clubs. Those bodies were formed because they needed competition management, and they gained power because the game realised they needed integrity to run. The ARL and NRL aren’t the same body, but they work in lockstep.
          Compare that to the situation in France, where the FFR runs all players under the top level, and the national team, but the national level players all play in the Top 14, where the competition is run by the Top 14 clubs (La Liga?), and the two bodies (the FFR and Top 14) have been in open warfare. Because the FFR acts in the national interest (i.e. the interest of the national team and funding the national game by using players to generate income by playing Tests), and the Top 14 works in its own interest (developing its competition, positioning it to be the highest form of Rugby, maintaining the maximum possible control over its players, etc). The English situation isn’t entirely different.
          .
          There’s benefits to private ownership, but also pitfalls. I’m on the fence about it. I think the greater issue is the governance structures in the game, where there’s too many chiefs. Too many fiefdoms. I’ve long argued that the best description of the governance of Australian Rugby is feudalism, and that it’s the last bastion of feudalism. We have vassal states who pick and choose when they support their suzerain. Where vassals and suzerains constantly undermine each other, and only have a vague form of unity when threatened externally (but not even that’s guaranteed). It doesn’t matter who owns these things, it’s more important that there be clear definition of roles and alignment of purpose.

        • Andrew Luscombe

          Yes.

  • Juan_Time

    Thanks Reg. Really enjoyed your thoughts and broad consideration.
    The game will continue at clubs and schools, and I am content with that. However I think the game should at least have a real crack to aim higher. In my mind, an ideal Super Rugby scenario (yes, for us) is a trans-tasman comp (& maybe PI &/or Japan). NZ may not want this ideally, but it may be better than a Super comp without us; or just a domestic NZ comp. Yes, the finances will need to be scaled back across the board, but I think if this could be achieved, we will end up with a better comp than the one we left.
    It may end up as you say, going back to the time before Super rugby, but I don’t believe that should not be our starting preposition.

  • Brisneyland Local

    Morning All, Am just catching up on the GAGR as thing have been pretty quiet here, I log on and find this gem. Great read Reg, and a lot of very valid points. That I must say for sure. Perhaps a little on the glass half empty, but as I have always taken the engineering approach “the glass is obviously twice as big as it needs to be!” I will come at it from a different angle.

    I know I am renowned for coming in off the long run up, and for sure I could absolutely go to town on the biggest bunch of Ass Clowns in history. The RA are almost making Cheika seem to have a small degree of competence (too far, yes perhaps, we know he has none!). Never in the world of sports / corporate overlap in Aus have we seen the degree of incompetence that we have seen out of RA in the last decade! But that issue aside, I am going to swing for the positive!

    “Darkness, the truest darkness, is not the absence of light. It is the conviction that the light will never return. But the light always returns, to show us things familiar. Home, family, and things entirely new, or long overlooked. It shows us new possibilities and challenges us to pursue them.”

    This is a quote from the DC world! (Lets just say me and the tin lids have watched a hell of a lot of movies during the Covid period!) It shapes me to believe that there is an out. Personally I don’t believe it will involve many of the current board being part of it, or any of the 10 fuck ups that have decided to enact a scorched earth policy. You only have to look at the people currently on the board ( people who have presided over the current situation) and the newbies (who have presided at fuck ups elsewhere), and anyone that says Daniel Herbert is a helpful addition is just kidding themselves, ask many of the ex-Reds players about how he treated them.

    But negatives aside, there is hope. Financially we are definitely in a pickle, and may even slide into administration. Look at Virgin, mis-managed, over committed, and poorly organised. But there is hope for them, someone will buy them and they will re-emerge. They will be lean, there will be a lot of hard work, but post covid and some restructuring, they will prevail.

    I am hoping this is the case for rugby. What the structure looks like, who knows? How the competition will appear? Who knows. Will we have TV rights? Who knows. But it will emerge somewhere. All of us here are testament to that fact. That we spend our spare time writing on here, watching games, debating whether Spanners Foley was a shit 10 (he was), or whether Gilbert Beale will ever pull on a gold jersey ever again (lets fucking hope not), means that we love the game. We want it back and will love it til the very end.

    The end is not nigh, a very big re-shaping yes, but not the end. The game will come back, because we desperately want it to.

    If I was in charge, and lets praise the almighty (if she is listening) and be thankful that I am not. Because I would go cap in hand to the NZRU and ask them to take over our game until we develop enough maturity to take it back! Then form an execution squad, and Cheika you are first against the wall! Readyaimfire!

    Over to you GAGR’s!

    • KwAussie Rugby Lover

      Maaaaaate, i think you are 100% correct in that this game will never die here. Absolutely it will change and where those changes go will be interesting. I’m a pessimist about the game, not because of the thousands of fans that love and play every week or are involved every week in making this game happen, but because the self centered, misogynistic wankers that have been fucking RA and the management of this game for years will not let go easily. There’s always someone else to blame and their belief that if only it was run their way things would improve is just too ingrained to be cast aside.
      I hope I’m proved wrong, I wasn’t about Cheika, Foley, Beale or Folau but maybe I will be about this. I really hope so because I love this game.

      Really looking forward to getting out of quarantine and hoping the subbies rugby starts soon in Sydney so I can get back to refereeing and meeting the local players and supporters who are so cool and who makes this game so great.

      • Brisneyland Local

        MAte I am glad I am not alone in my views. Maybe we are both crazy!

        • KwAussie Rugby Lover

          Highly likely mate

    • Hoss

      Hang on. That piece is calm, rational and considered on many levels. Sobriety seems to agree with you ??

      • Brisneyland Local

        Scary huh!

      • Nutta

        Sober my arse.

      • ATrain

        He did say Ass Clown a couple of times

        • Hoss

          Yes, but well down his previous 2019 AC ratio and small steps are encouraging. I will say though i have had the pleasure of attending a Wallaby outing with Mr Briz and he is equally consistent in his verbal use of same, at top of his lungs, whilst sitting in the crowd. But at 8’6 he was able to get away with it somewhat and for how we played in the first half of the Brissy test v the FISM’s , well, i think he was rather restrained.

          I believe it to be a form of rugby tourettes. Cause & Effect.

          Overall i found it best not to discuss said former coach- its Faulty Towers revisited – just don’t mention the war……

        • ATrain

          Thanks…good information to know. If I ever get to Lang Park for a catch-up I will just start yelling Cheika and follow the abuse…a sort of specialised rugby equivalent from the pool game Marco Polo.

    • RugbyReg

      I take offence to your comments about Herbie. He’s an exceptional person and and an asset to the organsation.

      • Brisneyland Local

        I apologise that you do. The dealings my freinds and family have had with him when they played for the Reds were appalling! Nothing short of.
        We will agree to disagree.

  • RF

    Professional rugby in Australia is sustainable? Yes
    Is the current situation we are in easy to fix? No

    Super Rugby was a stupid idea to begin with and we dug ourselves deeper and deeper into a imbalanced relationship with SANZAR partners motivated by short term financial concerns. It will be painful divorce, but in everyone’s interests.

    As for what NZ want, the “All Blacks” is the biggest show in rugby but won’t remain so if they can’t afford to keep the players in NZ. Club rugby is getting stronger and stronger in Europe, that is where the money of the game is shifting. NZ cannot sustain a viable professional league to bankroll this alone. They seem in complete and utter denial about this basic economic reality though.

    A cross tasman league would have domestic and international appeal. Super Rugby has neither.

    • KwAussie Rugby Lover

      While I agree that the changes are going to affect NZ as much as everyone else, I’m not so sure that there is this unlimited number of positions just waiting for a Kiwi, Aussie or SA player to come and fill that seems to be portrayed. NZ definitely has an advantage over Australia in that they have enough of a development process to put in a rule that says if you don’t play in NZ you don’t make the AB’s. Personally I like this but it will be interesting to see if it can be sustained in the post COVID-19 new world order.

      I think the biggest issue that players will have to face is that, regardless of the new competition, I think they are all looking at some significant pay cuts.

      I’m not so sure that a pure Trans Tasman competition will produce the sponsorship needed to pay these players and I think there is still going to be the need for more than just this, I do think it will start with this purely because the option for travel to and from other places won’t exist. I’m hoping that the start of the competition includes WA but maybe it can grow into that. Certainly interesting times

      • RF

        Yes it is definitely not going to pay the contracts that Folau, Pocock and Hooper have enjoyed in recent years. It will have to start from a modest base.

        The national unions have central contracts and life style factors to offer. Leinster have arguable the strongest club academy in the world right now and a star studded roster, they can’t compete financially with the big clubs in France and England. You have to adapt to your reality.

      • Hoss

        Good points all KARL. There will be a correction in the market place due to over-supply of players v openings and that means the value of player contracts only goes one way. I cant see contracts like Lee Majors being offered again in the foreseeable future. Five years and $6m offers will not be seen for some time i would imagine.

  • southern macro

    Nuke RA and start again.

    Privately owned clubs work in the UK and in France.

    It may not be the best option but it is the only option, at least they have a competition. Right now we have nothing. RA has financial losses and is a dysfunctional organisation. So, get rid of it.

    Club season, followed by a representative season.

    The idea that Rugby faces unique challenges in Aus because of the NRL ignores the fact that there are literally thousands of professionally paid soccer players in Europe.

    • RugbyReg

      soccer and rugby are completely different sports. Hugely larger market too. Incomparably bigger

      • southern macro

        some real insight there , thanks

  • Hoss

    Too true, but only because we are broke, have no leadership, a fractured future at best, a code in disrepair, any number of power plays around the peripheries of rugby all eroding the soul of rugby supporters, no TV deal in place, no play, a shocking recent W-L ration for SR and abandoned all hope. Apart from that, we are rosy.

    • Perth girl

      No sympathy here, should have seen it coming years ago!

  • LED

    Reg – serious question – IF rugby Australia had plenty cash, could a fully professional, national NRL style domestic competition be built around say 14 of the strongest existing clubs in Australia? (big IF, I know but posing it as “how would that work, if the cash was available”? And could such a club based fully professional comp attract, say 20,000+ to a game if marketed with real $$ based on the attendances teh strong clubs are already getting in Sydney and Qld premier grade?

    Again, if the cash was there is such a dream feasible?

Club Rugby
@RugbyReg

The original prop in a prop's body, but thankfully I have the rugby mind of a prop as well.

More in Club Rugby

  • Thursday’s Rugby News

    Thursday’s Rugby news sees the Wallabies reveal the new First Nations jersey, meanwhile club rugby continues their finals...

  • The Shute Shield’s run home

    Even though it wasn’t the tv game, Gordon hosting Uni was the match of the round, no...

  • Thursday’s Rugby News

    Thursday’s Rugby news sees the Force take on the Reds at Suncorp, with the Brumbies travelling up...

  • Thursday’s Rugby News

    Thursday’s Rugby news celebrates the return of Super Rugby, reveals potential private investment into the game in...