Melbourne Rebels Super 15: Up and Running? - Green and Gold Rugby

Melbourne Rebels Super 15: Up and Running?

Melbourne Rebels Super 15: Up and Running?
Rebel without a cause

Rebel with a cause

Update 29 Sept: It has been reported in today’s media that the VRU Rebel’s bid Chairman (and media buying giant) Harold Mitchell has broken bread with VicSuper15 Group’s Ray Evans and Glenn Fowles, with a resultant merged board likely to result from the negotiations and with Mitchell appointed as Chairman.

If this is the case, a strong contender for ultimate control of the franchise would likely eventuate. This ‘merged’ group are reportedly due to meet ARU appointed ‘number cruncher’ John Wylie later this week for discussions.

It is not known whether the third bidder, the Belgravia Group, will have any role in this proposed partnership. This is positive news, especially for key stakeholder the VRU, who are fighting off attempts by the ARU  to seemingly cut them out of the action. 

Original Post

I’m confident that the argy bargy over the model for the new Super 15 side in Melbourne, once the Australian option is ratified by SANZAR, will establish a viable template for rugby operations within our Southern State and provide a new stream for expanding the international talent base within Australia.

Sure, it hasn’t been a great start by the ARU as they’ve managed to not only get the VRU offside but the other bidders as well. Interestingly, the ARU Board refused to concur with their own administration’s recommendations for a preferred private equity partner – VicSuper15.

Although you’d imagine the Board would have signed off on this model prior to going to tender. Maybe they’d just gotten cold feet or was it perceptions that JO’N had ridden roughshod over all the rugby stakeholders in Melbourne that hasn’t really gone down a treat? A potential red trouser day for ARU President Ron Graham perhaps?

It seems that consensus is going to be the answer. They’ve appointed a financial ‘guru’ to crunch the numbers and negotiate an outcome that will satisfy all concerned. Sounds a bit like socialism but hey, lets get it up and running before the Saffa Southern Kings (aka the Southern Spears) sneak up from behind and pull off a lekker snotklap!  

Isn’t it great that there has been significant interest in the franchise from Melbourne and beyond, and that there is real money ready to be invested in rugby’s spread throughout Australia. Melbourne is a corporate giant with a surprising number of rugby supporters amongst its AFL dominated elite. In fact, rugby was first played in Victoria in the 1840’s.

There are a fair number of private schools (in particular) that play and foster rugby union. In recent years quite a number of top quality players have originated from Victoria i.e. Digby Ioane, Rocky Elsom, Tamaiti Horua, Dave Fitter etc. In addition, club rugby is thriving and there is a strong base for future development throughout the state – they play it in Ballarat, Bendigo, Boroondara, Border Army, Rabbits, Great Wall of China, I’ve been everywhere man……  

This year, the  Combined States team at the Australian Schoolboys Championships (which contains Victorian players) were  finalists for the first time ever against a rugby playing state – Queensland 1. There were nine Victorian players selected in this side and today (27/9/09) there has been four Victorian boys selected in the Australia/Australia A sides to play NZ  Schoolboys in the next week or two. That’s evidence to me that the VRU and the ASRFU are doing a pretty credible job down there.  

It’ll be interesting to see how the Melbourne Rebels v Melbourne Storm competing franchise/code plays out. They’ll both be operating from the same location, the new 31,000 seat rectangular stadium at Olympic Park (in addition to the Melbourne Victory soccer team). This stadium will be completed early next year and is state of the art stuff.

The Storm of course have a head start and runs on the board in terms of success but they’ve never really cut it when it comes to corporate support, profit making and ‘bums on seats’. The Storm is owned by News Ltd and is losing money hand over fist.  In fact, they reportedly lost $6m in 2007 and are still bleeding. It appears the NRL artificially props it up and use it as a ‘loss leader’ in marketing terms. Television coverage of Storm games (not necessarily in Melbourne as it’s not live free-to-air) is what keeps it going. 

The Victorian Government have become strong supporters of  ‘rectangular stadium’ games. Soccer and rugby league are essentially the reason this stadium is being built. Not only for regular scheduled club matches but for internationals, inter state and related games. The initial Melbourne Rebels bid in 2005 was a contributing factor to this project. There was always a likelihood that Super 12/14 would expand and inevitably arrive at Melbourne’s door.  

All the available evidence suggests that there are many more rugby union supporters in Melbourne than mungos. Especially with that very large ex-pat Kiwi and Saffa connection down there. Like Perthfontein, a significant proportion of the supporter base will be barracking for the opposition but WTF, as long as they rock up. It might be like going to a Reds v Crusaders game where most of the fans seem to be decked out in red and black?  

Rectangular Stadium - ProgressAn important component to grow the game in Melbourne would be some sort of free-to-air coverage of rugby union. At the moment, no rugby of any code is shown FTA. This needs to be sorted in the negotiations with News Ltd for the new SANZAR contract. Well, it needs to be sorted with any FTA content in any state but realistically, if you wanted to grow rugby in new markets, i.e. WA and Victoria,  it’s ‘all the way with FTA’. 

Foxtel is great but FTA is the only track if its going to catch-on big time. That’s also dependent on the quality of the product but lets not go there just now……   

Once the orgnisational and administrative template is bedded down, the Melbourne Rebels will be looking at a coaching structure and recruitment drive. That’ll be the basis of my next post.   

  • Melbourne Bok Fan

    Do you think they’re actually going to go with the name “Melbourne Rebels” or will they re-invent the team for the new S15?

    *rant alert*

    Melbourne Rebels – could that be the least thought-out, shittest name for a rugby team in the world?

    I’m still steaming about the fact that two years ago they had a naming competition to name the new Melbourne team, they asked the whole of Victoria, they must have had 40 gazillion suggestions….and the best they could come up with was the Melbourne Rebels. Who can actually associate with that name, besides 11 year olds who are pumped up on red cordial?

    Not happy Jan. Melbourne Bok Fan.
    Hey, that rhymes.

    PS: On another note – exciting times for Melbourne rugby – I’ve heard a lot of talk about developing the game here, and the future looks good. Looking forward to not have to fly to Sydney/Canberra to see some Super rugby.

    • Epi

      Could be worse. What about ‘Melbourne iSnack 2.0’?

      • Melbourne Bok Fan

        Hahahahhaha. True. True. I had a little rant about that this weekend too.

    • rebels is alot better than “force”!

      • Rocky Elboa

        Agree not a great name but its still better than Spear Tacklers and Cheaters

  • TightheadTezza

    I can’t but think the whole Melbourne S15 debacle is over the long term ownership/custodianship of the game itself, not just the immediate success of the team initially.

    It is easy to see the VRU being peeved by the bloody-minded stance taken by the ARU on private equity. The VRU want control of the long term future of a State Flagship, not just a seat on the board of a team that is likely to relocate to a more lucritive local when the private owner feels he can get a better deal elsewhere (eg. like the NRL’s failed Western Reds venture, or numerous US NFL relocations over the years). And well they might if history is repeated.

    The VRU has been the custodian of the game in Victoria for over 100 years, has nurtured the game and individuals to go on to greatness in wearing the Wallaby jersey: E.E.’Weary’ Dunlop, John Meadows, et al. This is the same role NSW, QLD and ACT and WA have done and they have control of their marquee teams, then why not VIC???

    It’s about time the ARU realised that to decouple the new S15 Team from the VRU is dangerous in the long run. Whats to say they don’t try to do the same thing with the Waratahs, Reds, Brumbies or Force? In fact every year the press run out another article on how the Brumbies are struggling financially and that they are looking at relocating to Melbourne (I guess this option is out now for ACTSNSWRU). We also get the continuing assessment of financial strife of the NSWRU, supposedly the most successful franchise financially, or the ‘struggling’ Reds looking for the performance of old, or the ability of the Force to attract or retain any talent so far detached from the East Coast heartland. This is the narrow-minded view of the Sydney-centric and doesn’t bode well for growing the game nationally.

    I believe it is the VRU’s duty to ensure the long run viability of the new Victorian franchise, to promote rugby in the whole of Victoria, not just Melbourne and to grow the supporter and player base for the future. And it is the ARU’s responsibility to grow the game nationally by supporting the States and Territories.

    And before anyone critises me for being biased, inclusive rather than exclusive, let me say that I am a Sydney born and raised lad and from my experience in playing rugby in NSW (Randwick, et al), ACT (Royals), VIC (Sale) and WA (UniWA) has shown there is a good strong local following and if nutured correctly will result in long term success (see the number of VICs in the AUS Schoolboys squad).

    So ARU, please give the VRU a go and let them decide how much private equity they should allow to make the VIC ‘Southern’ Rebels a viable team. If you don’t we will have an SA team playing in our conference of the S15 and will have missed a big opportunity to finally establish parity with both NZ and SA.

    Go the Rebels.

    • Patrick

      This is the same role NSW, QLD and ACT and WA have done and they have control of their marquee teams, then why not VIC?

      That IS why not :)

    • Lance Free

      I’m in agreement with most of your informed comment Tezza. In my view the VRU definitely needs significant involvement – they have ownership of the game in Victoria and I’d like to see a viable ‘consensus option’ take hold. That is, a professionally run franchise incl. private equity but with VRU oversight, if that’s the way to describe it.

      Pissing off the rugby community is not my preferred option.

  • Patrick

    btw, its a ‘loss leader’ – no-one consciously retains lost leaders ;)

    The FTA point is right on, with a massive kick up the arse for channel 7. I hate them forever. Happily about 70%+ of the Vic Rugby fan base has Foxtel and I can always find a mate’s to watch it at. At least if the Aussie networks actually figure out how digital TV works they might work out how to use more than one programming stream as well.

    As for the Storm, well this may be heretical but if I was running a new S15 team in Melbourne I would want to be bosom buddies with the Storm administration. The market in Vic is nowhere near saturation and the room for efficiency gains is substantial – in fact I would want to run both franchises (OK I don’t think Storm is a franchise per se) as a single administrative unit – they use the same facilities, have very similar training requirements, etc – heck I would even have a weekly joint training session. Whilst generally during the season I expect that they would want to alternate weekends – so that nearly every weekend there is rugby in Melbourne – for a change (and when dictated by the vagaries of tri-continental timetabling) they could even play double-headers.

    And I am not saying all this just because I hope we can poach Slater and Inglis, either :)

    Storm are better-run than any current aussie S14 franchise by a margin, and there players include some genuine stars that anyone could learn from. Most of all they have cracked whatever the formula is for running a team of nearly all ‘foreigners’ in a city easily big enough to get young footballers in trouble. We’d be nuts to try and re-invent the wheel, they’d be nuts to refuse the financial help of sharing resources.

    Finally, but not least, Rugby in Victoria is still quite schizophrenic between the posh private school system and the club system which only collects about 20-25% of those school players. Demographically a large number of Victoria’s actual player base, especially the expat kiwis and the Islanders, are in rugby league land. We need to keep the focus on those players – for the moment, the junior club competition is a mess with not even all the first grade clubs having juniors (for want of players not want of trying), and lots of juniors outside the school system playing irregularly or out of their age groups. I would rather they played League properly, frankly.

    Look forward to your next post!!

    • Lance Free

      Pat – I know what you’re saying about sidling up to the Storm administration. Not only them but the Victory as well. You’d think there’d be lots of opportunities for a bit of cross-pollination. They will need a very close working relationship with each other for this to succeed – you can imagine how fraught the situation could become if their cooperation came off the rails for any reason.

      Will be interesting to see how long News Ltd stick with running rugby league clubs. The rumour mill keeps suggesting maybe not too much longer….

      • Stomper

        If the Storm are losing News Ltd money now – I suspect it’ll be a whole lot more if/once Melbourne get a S15 team.

        Not sure even Murdoch’s deep pockets will stretch that far!

    • Adrian

      Re: the split between the school and club juniors the fundamental problem is that the games are played at the same time on a Saturday morning. Surely this can be resolved by the two parties the VRU and the Vic Schools Rugby have a sensible conversation to resolve this. I know of many school players that run straight off their school ground and get to their club to play the second half.
      This halfway house approach cannot continue.

      • Lance Free

        Agreed Adrian – haven’t they worked that one out yet? Every other serious rugby state has, unless there are factors pecular to Melbourne that we don’t know about?

        This would inevitably be the main reason there’s this divide between the two as Patrick discussed above. Junior rugby (U10 – U17) competitions should be played at such a time to allow kids the opportunity to participate in both, especially if you want to develop rugby to its fullest. That means either on a Sunday (with school footy on the Saturday) or having the competitions scheduled to run consecutively on the calendar, not concurrently.

        Kids are physically able to play in both on a weekend (Saturday + Sunday) until about the U16s – then it becomes too difficult with injuries and other teenage/school commitments.

      • Patrick

        Been there done that! One of the most painful experience of my life ahead even of being hit by a car was the club physio after a school sevens tournament in which both my legs had been corked and cramped to buggery :)

        But hell will freeze over before the public schools give up the Sat morning, and there isn’t a logical alternative for the club games.

        Maybe a band-aid solution would be that the two interact more, perhaps via a ‘cup’ type competition.

        Also, Lance, spot-on about working with the Victory as well, the simple fact is that none of the three leagues can really afford to go it alone, all can learn from each other and there is definitely room for all three teams in Melbourne.

  • Seb V

    when will the team be introduced? 2010? … true about the Free to air TV remark, i only recently got foxtel which is the main reason i could get back into watching rugby.

    • Lance Free

      2011 – remembering that they still haven’t made a final decision on who the lucky little ‘vegemite’ is going to be….

      It’ll take at least a good 12 months to establish, bed down and staff.

  • Patrick

    Good update, and welcome news. The jarpies are still pushing for it and they now have:
    a team (on paper at least);
    a structure;
    an organisation; and
    offical backing.
    We have an in-principle vote from SANZAR and momentum (was worth 3, is now worth 2 and losing value by the day).
    That makes it 4-3 in South Africa’s favour, and that’s bad news for us.
    We can turn this around either by getting some runs on the board to match theirs (a fucken structure would be a start). We could also play our trump card: JO’N. He seems to win every time.

    Nonsense aside, we need to get out of the blocks on this pretty fast or before we know it SANZAR will be faced with rejecting a well-backed and established team from the strongest rugby nation in favour of a completely unknown quantity from the weakest.


Roscoe Tims (aka @LanceFree): A nasty, opinionated little man whose views are indeed narrow with a capital 'N'. Favourite Sport: mungo bashing. Does he ever have anything positive to say?

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