Australian Rugby Fans Unite - a report from the Western Front - Green and Gold Rugby
Western Force

Australian Rugby Fans Unite – a report from the Western Front

Australian Rugby Fans Unite – a report from the Western Front

Messages from the West don’t always make it through to Rugby HQ, so it was thought high time that the Eastern States got a full report on how things are progressing out West.

In short, right now. Not well.

We are currently flicking between disbelief and anger. For different, overlapping reasons. All of which centre around one issue – the future of Australian Rugby as seen through the lens of the Western Force (though I imagine our friends in Melbourne and Canberra may be familiar with some of this).

We don’t intend to lecture at great length about the virtue of the Western Force – as to why they should be preserved in future incarnations of Super Rugby. We also promise to do our level best to avoid the temptation to take shots at the East Coast along traditional lines (And yet we are sure you are reading this on a lovely NBN connection paid for with our share of the GST).

We will not bang on about how consenting to the removal of the Western Force would be stupid in the extreme, setting rugby in WA back decades or how, just as local player development is taking off… unwise in our opinions. Such choices will be business decisions as much as rugby decision. And such decisions are largely out of the control of the fans. The one thing that we can’t wrap our heads around is in our control – the reaction of the Australian Rugby public (that’s you and me).


Aussie fans unite at the game. Can they unite for the Game?

The effects of a cut

We would like to invite Australia to undertake a thought experiment that we have done ourselves.

  • Think of the Australian Super Rugby franchise you know the least / would miss the least;
  • How many players in their latest starting XV can you name? (In our experience, without having read team sheets recently, 8 is about average, 12 is good);
  • Divide that number by 4 (let’s say you can name 12 and that leaves you with 3);
  • Add those 3 players to ‘your team’;
  • Does your team now beat the Chiefs?
  • (Hell – Do those players you borrowed even make the starting 15 with ease?)

The clever among you (forwards, explain this to the backs) will have figured out what point we’re trying to make. Even if you dissolve a team and sprinkle its players among the rest of Australian rugby, we are not suddenly going to be on even footing. Shrinking is not a panacea for fixing what ails Australian rugby. This is the first thing we cannot get out heads around: the Australian rugby public seems to accept it on faith, that four Super Rugby teams will be more competitive.

We can’t see any reason to believe they will be.

It might make use marginally more competitive over the short to medium term as some teams enjoy a slight bump in skill level. Yet it seems to be accepted as gospel that Australian rugby will flourish with, and because of, four Super Rugby teams.


We know Australia can support five Super Rugby teams, because we have been supporting five Super Rugby teams. And we are now into our 6th season of doing so. Yes, the Rebels and Force have not performed as the other Australian teams in that period. But across that same period:

  1. the Lions made the finals once (topping a conference that included the Kings and Jaguares), the Cheetahs made the finals once and banging on about the Kings just seems mean;
  2. there have been two Australian Champions. South Africa have had zero.

Waratahs – Champions in 2014.

While we acknowledge that the South Africans are having equally fraught conversations currently, the conversations about their contribution tend to centre around who deserves to be at the top table, and not ‘can they support five teams?’

So, can we please not accept at face value this idea we can only support five teams? Maybe it is correct, but maybe its not. But the speed at which we have conceded this point is what we can’t understand over here. We didn’t even try to fight the narrative that we can definitely produce 60 top players, but producing 75? Forget it, totally beyond us.

Ireland has 4 top teams. Wales has 4 top teams. We think we only have the depth for the same and that’s what’s holding us back?

You can ignore reality – you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality

It is not difficult to understand why we accepted this line of thinking.

We wanted it to be true.

The Kiwi’s are clearly in first with daylight taking the rest of the medals. We want to believe that the only thing separating our teams and Super Rugby glory is four starters from another franchise and a few of their academy players. Deep down you want to believe we are not that far off the pace.

But we are off the pace. And adding players who are off the pace to another group of players who are themselves off the pace, is not the solution. Skill levels, coaching and player developmental pathways and improved governance. We know this is how Australian rugby grows. It’s why the NRC fills you with such hope. It’s why the thought of losing an Australian rugby team fills you with unease that you can’t quiet name. It’s why we all won’t believe the lie. These other solutions will not come easily, they will not come cheap. There will be many false starts. Wouldn’t it be simpler if cutting a Super Rugby team was the pruning we needed? That brings us to our next item that Sandgropers can’t wrap their heads around. 

Lessons from Ireland

For all the reasons outlined above, we don’t think the main issue is being spread too thin. Believe it or not, trying to get rugby to put down roots in an inhospitable West Coast environment with limited financial resources is an issue which has been wrangled with before.

In 2000 (one year after Ulster won the Heineken Cup, as it was then), the IRFU was within a stones through of folding up Connacht. They were too expensive, and they were underperforming. Then, much like now, future of all professional rugby in the west of the country was at stake. In 2003, Connacht supporters march to the IRFU offices in Dublin and delivered a petition to save their team. It was the drive of the fans to keep four teams in Ireland that led to the team being retained. Robbie Henshaw would have been 10 – 13 at the time and living in Connacht. Ask him if pathways matter.

Where is the march from Australian fans? It is in all of Australian rugby’s interest to advocate to retain 5 Super Rugby teams. The loss of any Australian rugby assets diminishes us all.

It is common ground that success for Australian rugby requires growing the game, engaging grass roots with the excitement generated by the professional game. But we also seem to think the best way to do this is to withdrawn from a major city in the country? That seems strikingly defeatist. For as long as we think that’s all Australian rugby is capable of is being a force in Sydney and Brisbane, then, that is all we will be capable of.

Hooper Cheetahs

Can the Cheetahs ever prosper?

It is easy to promise what is not in your power to give

There will be some of you screaming at your screens at this point.  Enraged that I can’t see the obvious. It’s probably something to the effect of:

  1. Rugby is a business. We cannot wish financial security out of thin air. No matter how unpalatable the alternative is.
  2. The product that is ‘Super Rugby’ and the Australian involvement in it requires improvement.
  3. Finally, Australia will not and can not move unilaterally in this. We are but a lonely A in SANZAR.

We accept all this. What we will not accept, and what no Australian rugby support should have to accept, is Australian rugby going quietly – standing there just hoping that it’s our mates that get the chop, not us.

Roll over

The decision about which teams stay and which teams go will not be made by Australia alone. But the costs and benefits of this 5th team will be carried by Australia alone (except to the extent it impacts on the quality of the wider competition.)

But do you remember how hard we had to fight to get a 5th team? Getting the Rebels in instead of the Kings almost broke SANZAR. The South African’s fought tooth and nail to get their team. The whole thing went to arbitration.

As far as solvency goes, the Force looked to offer itself for sale to the public this year. By all accounts ‘Own the Force’ was a rousing success. The appetite was there. There are many people who think the competition can be amended without loss of a team.

The Sea of Blue will not lay this at the feet of the players. We’ll get annoyed when they lack technical skills, or let a game go in the last 15 minutes, but we have never felt like they have done anything but run their guts out. From Hodgson, to the Honey Badger, the team showed up for us. And we for them.

Crowd Favourite - Nick "The Honey Badger" Cummins

Crowd Favourite – Nick “The Honey Badger” Cummins

What is making us seethe with white hot rage is, well, do you get the sense that the ARU is showing up for us? Do you get the sense they are fighting our corner? Cause we don’t. We wanted them to fight for us like the South African’s fought.

It feels like the ARU, like the Australian rugby public, have accepted the narrative. That Australian rugby isn’t up to this. This was conceded before the first shot was fired. They lost the match in their heads long before they stepped into the board room.

If the ARU fought tooth and nail for us, and still lost. We’d take it. It’s the capitulation by the powers-that-be which makes us see red.

And then our anger returns back to disbelief. How is it not doing the same to you? The fact is our ARU has all but conceded that only 4 of the 5 teams (barring an absolute bolt from the blue) will survive the restructure. When the time comes, do not ask ‘for whom does the final whistle blow?’ It blows for thee.

When you recover from the relief that it wasn’t your team, ask yourself – ‘what happens next time we have to stand up for Australian rugby?’

Will we push back against the pre-conceptions and say ‘No, we can do this’? Based on what we’ve seen of the negotiations, are you confident that the Australian rugby public and by extension our governing bodies will fight your corner when the time comes?

If so, we have a team in Perth to sell you.

  • Well said brother! I will share this we as many people as I can. If others agree I suggest they do the same.

    • dru

      Complete solidarity from my part too. Will be sharing as well.

  • mistermouse666

    Hear hear. Cannot fathom the calls for a reduction and really appreciate you taking the time to spell out some of the reasons why it’s utterly daft!

  • Brumby Runner

    Yep, feel your confusion and I’d say most over here are with you all the way. Very few I’ve seen have really said that we need to drop a franchise – most are just as bewildered that that might be the outcome.

    I might also add that, in the event it happens, the four remaining franchises won’t even get what benefit there might be from redistribution of the players from the discarded franchise, as many will no doubt get better offers from overseas.

    • Die Hard

      I wonder if it ever occurs to anyone that there are only so many overseas gigs and that they are already taken. Another thirty players food and already flooded market. And many of these numpties aren’t good enough anyhow.

      Hence the original problem of not being good enough

      • Brumby Runner

        I don’t believe all the overseas spots are taken. I’d anticipate a whole lot of new opportunities would open up particularly in Japan. And on top of that, the quality of players who would be thrown up as excess here would be higher, much in some cases, than some of those already playing o/s, so it is inecitable that a lot, maybe most, of the best players from the discarded side will find their futures o/s.

  • Muzz

    Mate this is the first opinion that has precisely laid out my thoughts on the matter. Why do so many in Australia seem to think that cutting one of the teams we fought so hard to get is the right outcome? It’s sacrilege and the ARU should stand up for Australian rugby instead of just going with the flow. If they were going to stand up for the 5 Aussie sides they would have made it public so you could confidently assume that they’re letting the others drive them from behind in these negotiations. So disappointing I can’t put it into words. If we come out of this with 5 teams we can thank SA for standing in their dig cause the ARU sure haven’t.

    • LoveThePoop

      Cutting a 5th team just means we will lose more players to Europe and Japan… it would be such a disappointment and it won’t solve the any of the problems we have in the foundations of the game (coaching, marketing/fan engagement, junior player development etc)

  • Happyman

    The argument makes more sense than anything I have read. Anyone who has seen the way the way that WA is competing at junior levels and the way the acamamy has been run will believe that the Force are worth sticking with.

    I could not agree more about the comment that the ARU is not in your or anyone’s corner for that matter is just seems like they don’t care about the game.

  • David Mitchell

    So what you’re saying is that we need to wildcats this whole thing.

    • Gallagher

      - Focus on grassroots in aus
      – As much much as I love foxtel coverage it needs free to air access to unlock the fanbase
      – Two tier super rugby comp, ie rebels, force, blues, Kings, cheetahs, sunwolves etc vying to win to fight for promotion to tier 1 super rugby

      Everyone wins.

  • LoveThePoop

    What happens to NZ if we leave sanzarr??

    Do they become to isolated to be in a competition with SA??

    How much money does SA bring to the table compared to AUS and NZ??

    Is that really enough money to make up for the lack of interest Aussie non-rugby fans have for a competition involving SA??

    Do we even need to be in a competition involving NZ?? Shouldn’t we be working towards creating a domestic competition that is to the level of the AFL?? And leave the international contests to test matches, world club style tournaments, the sevens circuit, and world cups… we may be a long way off that but it’s got to start some where

    European rugby seems to be going very well… what can take from the competition structures over there and put in place over here?

    • David Mitchell

      Yeah, we could totally have a comp with HK, Singapore, Japan and Australian Teams. So much money in the Japanese market for rugby.

    • Dally M

      NZ only want to stay because they a) want to continue playing the Springboks and b) need the South African money.

      I’m sure ‘b’ can be solved selling a competition involving NZ, Australia, Japan, Argentina & maybe the pacific islands. And if NZ gets a share of the Northern Hemisphere tour revenue.

      ‘a’ becomes an issue if we move ahead with a competition without the South African teams. Will they remain part of the Rugby Championship? You’d have to think they would want to pull out, but with the 6 Nations closed where could they go?

  • paul

    Keep the Force, pull out of Super (crap) rugby and start a domestic comp start with 6 then maybe 8/10 teams.
    The revolution is starting, we stick to Super rugby and the game dies here.

    • onlinesideline

      exactly – super rugby is a dead man walking. We need a national comp covering all parts of country – top end, adelaide – western suburbs of sydney – it will grow because it makes sense – clubs grow if infrastructure is right – wallby supportes in adelaide have never had a voice. Create a couple of country teams FFS.

      Broadcasters would take an interest because of potential, now they are not really interested and I dont blame them.

      Building a sport based on broadcasting rights and elite players is idiotic. LET THEM GO to UK – there are heaps of blokes to replace them – so may blokes go to league because their is no real competition from rugby. We have avoided competing with NRL like pussies – we need to go to strength of this country, something NRL has tapped into and we have missed out on

    • James

      Agree, kill off super rugby and rejig NRC to create a national league.

  • Patrick

    Great article, really well said and I agree entirely. If they need money they can sell the ARU headquarters and lease a tin shed in western Sydney, for example.

  • Huw Tindall

    Great article! Cutting a team should be a last resort. ARU is in a hard spot though. They need the share of TV money to keep rugby afloat. So they need to ‘save’ Super Rugby with SANZAAR. Just why that requires cutting teams I don’t know.

    Also am I the only one who would rather watch NRC than Super Rugby in it’s current form? Is going it alone such a bad idea?

    • LoveThePoop

      I still prefer watching super rugby but only because the wallabies players aren’t available for the NRC… I wouldn’t complain if super rugby was scraped and in favour of the NRC… both AFL and NRL bring in 1billion dollar tv deals so there is potential in for rugby in Australia to get that kind of money eventually if they could get it right… epically if it were a Australaisan comp with NZ, Japan, and eventually the islands and people tuning in from Europe to watch

  • Moose

    Great article. I’m firmly in favour of keeping all five Australian teams.
    Despite the doom and gloom talk I can’t see any teams being cut. If going to 15 teams means losing two South African sides as well as one of ours, I can’t see SARU agreeing to that when they fought so hard to get their sixth team included only a couple of years ago. It also means SANZAAR admiting that they properly farked up the expansion, and broadcasters agreeing to have less product to broadcast. I suspect that despite all the present distress we’ll see the competition remain as 18 teams, but with the conferences reshuffled and finals qualification changed to keep the kiwis happy.
    I’d like to think that ARU secretly knows that no teams will be lost and that their current team-cutting posture is merely building up political capital within SANZAAR. Otherwise damn their oily hides.

    • Huw Tindall

      This is the best we can hope for I think Moose.

      Although I think Fox would however be happier to have less overall matches if it meant more local content i.e. aussie derbies and AEST friendly time slots.

  • LoveThePoop

    after the Green and golds successful campaign to get joe marler to scrum straight… I think it’s time for the new one calling for Australia to leave SANZARR… #SouthAfricagoesorwego

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Awesome mate. I agree 100%. Cutting a team for Australia won’t raise any standards it’ll just lose supporters. If the issue is the individual skills of the players then maybe address that but ffs don’t address that issue by cutting a team.
    This whole thing is so stupid by the ARU and SANZAAR. So the issue is lack of support, a convoluted conference system and an unfair finals that turns people off. And their solution is to cut a team that will turn even more people off and cut sponsorship and reduce income. How the hell do they see this as a good idea.

  • dsb

    Keep the Five. Reshape the comp to work better. Ignore the naysers. we can do well with an Asia Pacific comp. Start an American Conference, let the SAFAs deal with who they will play against as with the Europeans. Then do some stuff now and then between the top confernce teams!

  • McWarren

    Well said and I couldn’t agree more. You could also add to that narrative the morons within Australian Rugby who continually pedal the lie that Super Rugby is crap, that it is the problem. Certainly it needs to evolve but let’s face it, if it wasn’t for SR the Force, Rebels and even the Brumbies wouldn’t even exist.

    You might want to include a map of oz showing where Perth is for those geographically challenged supporters who find it hard to engage emotionally in a game because the oppositions team name doesn’t include GPS co-ordinates.

    Thanks for the article you’ve hit the nail on the head with regards to my anger and frustration. How can we accept that reduction is the way to success and expansion. I’d rather the ARU told the Kiwi’s and Saffa’s to fuck off completely and risk killing SR altogether than to just meekly roll over and concede a team.

  • Rob Malcolm

    No, sorry I disagree: we’d be better with four teams.

    Our talent pool doesn’t justify 5: we’ve been at it for 6 years and the results are getting worse. Let’s be honest: we are falling further and further behind the benchmark NZ teams. The mental experiment presented, “the effects of a cut”, doesn’t suddenly make any of the 4 remaining super-star teams, but it gives them DEPTH. What’s the one thing that all those NZ teams have? DEPTH. Some kiwi you’ve never heard of comes on with 20 to go and wins it for them. Depth isn’t pretty, but it wins close matches and sustains winning runs despite injuries. Say it ain’t so.

    And, let’s be honest, the Australian sporting public, isn’t into turning up to watch losing teams. We are in a death spiral unless we change.

    The comp can’t sustain 18 and the conference structure is crap. Something has to give and pretending that us not giving up one team towards that collective good is delusional. If the Saffas are giving up 2 teams, us giving up 1 is fair AND good for our game.

    But for what it’s worth, I’d cut the Rebels and keep the Force. The West is winnable, Melbourne is not. Not now. Not with the $ we have versus AFL and NRL in Melbourne. We need to fight where we have the best chance of winning grassroots hearts and minds. The Force have shown enough to deserve that shot. And I’d also be saying that they deserve the first 10 picks of the Rebels players.

    • Fatflanker

      Regretfully, I have to agree. We were strong with three teams but have been consistently mediocre with five. I believe this is having a knock-on effect with the Wallabies too.

      Lack of depth is killing us – look no further than last night’s Rebels-Chiefs game with the Rebs leading but then blowing out in the last 15 minutes – how often are we seeing this week in and week out?

      The remaining teams may not get much of an immediate ‘skills dividend’ from dissolving a team in the short term, (parlez-vous français, Monsieur Naivalu?), but we’ll be stronger for it in the longer term.

      Most would probably agree that if a team does go, it should be the Rebs.

    • Hugh Cavill

      Yeah I agree with this.

      I really respect the argument presented above, but I just can’t see a long term future with 5 teams. As I said in my article a few weeks back, are we going to sit for the next decade and watch the Force and Rebels come in the bottom 5 year after year after year?

      How long is that really sustainable? The Sea of Blue are fantastic, but their numbers are dwindling slowly every year and I can’t see that getting better if things stay the way they are.

      I agree with cutting the Rebels and keeping the Force, FWIW. For exactly the reasons you state.

      • Andrew Luscombe

        Just adopt standard professional league management practices across the league – i.e. drafts, salary caps, equal access to players. No other sports league would miss-allocate its players to its market the way Super Rugby has. The AFL must be astonished at the business incompetance of Super Rugby.

        All of the Rebels, Force, and Kings got large crowds initially. There’s a market there for good competition. Failing to provide competitive teams in those markets is just basic sports buisness failure. It’s not hard to fix if the vested interests got out of the way. Cutting a team will not get the vested interests out of the way, it will only make them stronger. Super Rugby needs to be run by a commission.

    • Mr Wobbly

      TL;DR version: Cutting a team is dumb.

      Cutting a team is the same kind of narrow, myopic thinking that has seen rugby in Australia stay small while our competitors have become so much stronger.

      When the AFL moved South Melbourne to Sydney people said the same things… AFL will never work there – ever. In the ’80s the Swans were a basket case, losing millions of dollars and barely competitive. Now the derby between the Swans and Western Sydney pulls a crowd to rival a test match. In Queensland today more kids play AFL than rugby.

      The argument about depth is nonsense. You don’t build depth by shrinking the player pool. You build depth by casting a wider net, better talent identification, more accessible pathways and better coaching. That takes time and perseverance. The Force have already produced a number of Super Rugby players and the Rebels are starting to as well. But it’s not just the locally raised players that are getting opportunities, it’s also players that could have been but weren’t picked up by other sides. Wallabies, Sean McMahon and Reece Hodge are two examples.

      What will happen if a team is cut is 35-40 players will either retire or join the 120 odd Australian’s that are already playing professionally overseas. We’ll probably lose an NRC team as well as I doubt any of the Spirit, Rising or Vikings will be able to field much of a side without any Super Rugby players. That means we also lose two full coaching teams and an entire development pathway. Interesting strategy for building long term depth.

      Were we more successful when there were three Aussie teams? The Brumbies were champions twice and the Kiwis eight times during that period.

      During the period we had four teams, the Bulls won it three times and the Crusaders twice. Australia had no finalists in two of those five years.

      Since going to five teams both the Reds and ‘Tahs have won and the Brumbies made a grand final.

      No need to point out that the game stands to lose millions in TV revenue and will have less local derbies/content with less teams.

      I suspect that if the brains behind running rugby were running the AFL it would still be the VFL with twelve teams playing out of little suburban grounds. Except there would probably only be about eight teams left.

      BTW, if you think Perth is much less of an AFL town than Melbourne it’s probably because you haven’t been there in footy season.

    • Moose

      By going from five teams to four we might gain depth at SR level, but would we not be losing depth at Wallabies level?

    • Andrew Luscombe

      Super Rugby is the only professional league in the world that does not support expansion teams with special drafts, raised salary cap, or league subsidies. It is the only league in which teams do not have equal access to the player pool. It is failing because it has organised (albeit accidentally) for its successful teams to be grouped in its smallest market, and provides uncompetitive teams grouped in its largest markets.

      All the expansion teams had large crowds initially. The Kings had some 40,000+ crowds in their first season. The league has failed to provide competitive teams in those proven markets. No other sports league would do this. It is basic sports and business management incompetance. This is killing rugby in Australia, and SA. Cutting a team will not turn it around. Less teams will not have more success. Adopting standard professional league management practices can turn it around.

    • onlinesideline

      Disagree – its the comp itself NOT the amount of teams. Super rugby is not attracting young players that are going to league. This has ALWAYS been our problem and we have avoided this reality for 20 years. Thats why if we have only 4 teams it wont make the slightest bit of difference. Were we smashing the kiwi super rugby teams 10 years ago before rebels and force existed ? – NO – crusaders one 7 titles and it took waratahs 19 years to win 1 title.

      Its not the AMOUNT of depth we have, its the CALIBRE of depth we have, or should have – whether we have 5 teams, 4 teams or even 3 teams.

      Until we have a national comp represented by all regions like the NRL all the top schoolboy talent will go to league. Forget the elite players going to UK – let them go. BTW – alot of these league talents are not that well paid anyhow – they should be playing rugby. Only a small percentage of aussie guys want to go to UK – vast majority would prefer to stay home and be near mates and family. We need to start fresh and build a comp from ground up as avenue for young lads all across the country to show their talent. We need to build a exact replica of NRL and take them on head on – THEN WE WILL GET REALLY COMPETIVE TEAMS – until we do that we can have 2 teams even and we will still loose to kiwis and saffa teams. And its getting worse and worse every season.

      Super rugby is a globalist failure that from Australian perspective has run away from the challenge – we need to go to war with NRL or get very used to getting totally spanked every season in super and 4 nations. – its happening anyhow.

      We need to go broke and start fresh and build a comp from beginning. Players will need to take a cut, let the money chasers go – then after 2-3 years with proper infrastructure an aussie based broadcaster will start to take interest, crowds will return, national tribalism will kick in, all regions of OZ will be represented, people will identify with players, school kids can dream, and dad can watch on TV in normal sane hours.

  • joy

    The last v first game last night shows the gulf is not as wide as we think. The Chiefs don’t look anywhere near as good when you get in their faces. A little more skill, a little fitter and a wee bit smarter and the Rebels would have won.

  • Mr Wobbly

    Great article. Love your passion.

  • joy

    Why is the option of dumping Sun Wolves, Jaguars (It’s English I’m speaking) and the Kings not discussed? It just highlights fact that you can’t get the mob that created the problem to fix the problem.

    For mine we should stand on our dig. Its five teams for us or bugger off.

    If that doesn’t get a response call for meetings with the ignored Fijian, Samoan and Tongan RUs to discuss an eight team home and away comp.

    If they still continue to snub us tell SANZAAR the’re SANZAR. “See you at the next RWC” boys.”

    And we should communicate this only by tweets.

    • Pearcewreck

      I mostly agree.
      The teams that are the biggest part of the problem seem to be immune from being punted.
      It’s wrong.

  • kevinsons

    I would be more interested in watching the NRC (Fijian team included) with all of the Wallabies players than Super Rugby. Would it ever be able to pay the salaries of the stars though?

  • Perth girl

    Great article with lots of relevant points. The rugby public needs to let the ARU know how they feel

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