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Thursday’s Rugby News

Thursday’s Rugby News

Thursday’s Rugby news celebrates the return of Super Rugby, reveals potential private investment into the game in Australia, reports on community rugby’s return to play, and casts an eye over emerging players in Super Rugby AU.

 


 

And we’re back…

Waratahs v Rebels in 2019. Credit: Keith McInnes

Super Rugby in Australia is back after RA was able to officially confirm the kick-off date after coming to an agreement on a broadcast deal with Fox. The first round of the inaugural Super Rugby AU will see the Reds take on the Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium on Friday 3 July and the Brumbies going up against the Rebels in Canberra on 4 July. The Western Force will have to wait a week to get involved in the action, with the full draw to be confirmed today.

In unfortunate news for Brumbies fans (and a saving grace for Tahs fans), all Australian teams will start on zero points following the suspension of Super Rugby for this year. They will play each other twice before a two-week finals series, culminating in a September 19 grand final.

Despite Super Rugby Aotearoa enjoying the roar of the crowd for this weekend, as it stands our competition will be played without fans at the games until the advice around COVID-19 restrictions changes.

“We are excited to announce the return of professional rugby in Australia and the kick-off of Vodafone Super Rugby AU on 3 July,” Rugby AU CEO Rob Clarke said in a statement. Clarke was thankful that Fox came to the rescue to broadcast this season.

“A huge thanks goes to our broadcast partner of 25 years, Fox Sports, who have backed the revised competition format for 2020 and have delivered the best possible news to rugby fans across the country today.”

The international season is till yet to be confirmed with Clarke stating: “We will continue to work closely with Fox Sports and Foxtel on the schedule for the international season following the revised Super Rugby tournament and look forward to making further exciting announcements with regards to our 2020 Test match schedule over the coming weeks.”

Super Rugby AU will feature a number of experimental law changes, with Clarke revealing: “Fans can also expect to see something different during the new season, as we use the opportunity to innovate and push the boundaries and we look forward to showcasing a new brand of Rugby throughout this 12-week competition.”

Staking a claim

Ryan Lonergan waits to feed the scrum.

It is being reported that global private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts is in talks with Rugby Australia to make a considerable investment in the code.

Their Australian arm is discussing taking a stake in the sport worth “hundreds of millions of dollars”, says Georgina Robinson at the Sydney Morning Herald.

According to “people in the know”, parties met last week and discussions included a new 2021 competition model that will “most likely dismantle the 25-year-old SANZAAR partnership at Super Rugby level and put Australia’s interests first.”

Incoming Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan claimed that Test rugby and the grassroots game would not be touched, but the future of Super Rugby remains up in the air.

“I haven’t spoken to KKR directly but obviously they are a seasoned and highly respected firm,” McLennan said.

“We’ve had good inbound interest from UK and American private equity firms and I’m very open to continuing those discussions at a Super Rugby level. The time is right to have these discussions as we look to alternate funding mechanisms for the game. Anything I can do to free cash up to reinvest in grassroots rugby will be good for the game.”

In recent times, private equity firms have taken a serious look at the sport of Rugby Union. CVC has already invested in the Six Nations, the UK Premiership and the Pro 14 and are looking at South Africa next, while New Zealand rugby has been courting interest from Silver Lake investments.

Professional rugby in Australia is in a precarious position, with RA having no broadcast deal locked in for 2021 and onwards. Given the sport here is looking for large scale change, it may make an attractive investment for an external party. Is it time the game here looks to non-traditional models of funding to ensure its long-term future?

Rugby restart

Warringah Rats v Sydney University 2014

The Shute Shield is tentatively planning to return to play, with proposed dates of either 18 July or 25 July established as a goal to resume the competition. This follows the announcement from the NSW government that all restrictions for community sport would be lifted at the end of this month.

At the moment, community rugby teams in NSW are training in groups of 10 but without contact under Return to Play protocols, and as it stands, full contact in larger groups won’t happen until 1 July.

NSW Rugby and the SRU beleive players need a number of weeks of full training to prepare their bodies until any competition could resume.

“Competitions don’t necessarily start on July 1 but you can start making contact,” NSW Rugby boss Paul Doorn told the Sydney Morning Herald. “One of our scenarios was that Shute Shield and other competitions would start on 18 or 25 of July and, if you can start having training with contact from 1 July, that works in with that timing.”

The exact start date for Shute Shield will be locked in soon, albeit with a modified draw, and there might be a chance of crowds by that time.

This follows Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) announcement of an 11-Round draw for the 2020 Queensland Premier Rugby season that would see players in action by August. QRU have mapped out a return to training plan, beginning on 12 June, which would see the Hospital Challenge Cup resume on 1 August.

Club circumstances have to be carefully considered, with some clubs around Australia unable to field a competitive team. Easts Rugby Club in Canberra has already withdrawn from Premier Rugby for the 2020 season.

Rookie watch

Jack McGregor scores for Western Force

There are number of young guns champing at the bit to start Super Rugby AU when the season kicks off on 3 July. It is hoped that the domestic competition will give Super Rugby teams a chance to blood some up-and-coming players by giving them more opportunity for game time.

Brumbies flyhalfs Noah Lolesio and Reesjan Pasitoa are fighting it for starting spots, with Lolesio starting strong this season. Pasitoa has been given limited opportunities for the Brumbies this season, coming off the bench against the Highlanders in round three and the Sunwolves in round six, and is fighting hard for his first start.

“[On] my debut, probably the big thing was the belief that the boys and the staff had in me that I was able to step up a level and get out there so the big thing was my confidence and belief that I was ready,” he said. “Another thing I learned on top of that was to always back myself, I’m a pretty confident person but having them believe in me probably helped that too.”

Another Brumbies colt is poised for a big year. Billy Pollard, one of the stars of the 2019 Australian Schools, is learning off Test hooker Folau Fainga’a, and is challenging back-ups Connal McInerney and Lachlan Lonergan.

At the Reds, schoolboy star Mac Grealy maybe a bolter for a match day start following the departure of Isaac Lucas. Grealy is a new addition to the Reds squad, after finishing school at Toowoomba’s Downlands College.

“It’s been really good to get a taste of the next level at Reds training and I’ve been trying to pick up things from James, Bryce (Hegarty) and Jock (Campbell) about fullback play,” Grealy said.

Across the other teams, there is many more exciting young prospects pushing the elder statements. Will Harrison has been in the hot seat for the entire season at the Tahs, while his team mate Carlo Tizzano has been pushing skipper Michael Hooper. it will be interesting to see who emerges from the Rebels and Force squads if player rotation is used effectively. Who should we be keeping an eye out for?

  • Yowie

    At the moment, community rugby teams in NSW are training in groups of 10…

    The backs were invited to training too, but they are reluctant to make an appearance after a few months without the availability of hairdressers.

  • Dally M

    It seems like every day there is more and more good news when it comes to rugby and it’s not even Christmas yet!

  • onlinesideline

    Kolhberg Cravis and Roberts ? – the barbarians at the gate ? Michael Milken, Junk Bonds, Bud Fox – so rugby is going back to tthe 80s – mmmmmm !

    Question – wasnt Twiggy’s money good enough ? RA is happy to ditch the Force, and then use them again to make up a 5 team domestic comp after a black swan event of a pandemic but say no to Twiggys 50 million. They could have eaten humble pie, taken the Force back in and said it was a mistake before Covid, accepted some help from Twiggy but no, now we are selling equity to people who will not have the interests of the game at heart like Twiggy would have.

    Question 2 – RA have said FTA cant be really acheived at prime spots because we need the cash injection of pay TV. Well if we sell out to the Barbarians at the gate in theory we wont need Foxtel for much, and yet will the FTA channels be interested. If they arent then how on earth will the domestic Super rugby really take off ?

    • Yowie

      I like your symbolism there Re “a black swan event” and Western Australia.

      • onlinesideline

        The Force: ignore the black Swan at your peril
        Covid: Leave it to me

        • Yowie

          The Force have the Firepower to…er never mind

        • onlinesideline

          I’ll finish it : “To remind rugby players they should just stick to putting their hard earned into bricks and mortar and avoid shiny suits”

        • Yowie

          Without condoning it, I sort-of admire the ludicrous audacity of the Firepower sponsorship scam – Old Mate got corporate hospitality etc. for a fair while without paying up any actual sponsorship money. That’s before you get to the core business of claiming to have a magic pill that causes diesel fuel to be ridiculously more efficient than physics would have you believe.

          Must have carried his balls around in a wheelbarrow.

        • ATrain

          If he never paid it does that mean he wasn’t able to claim tax on it either?

        • Hoss

          Almost worked for Peter Perfect and his miracle performance enhancing thingy.

        • Yowie

          Pete Evans the TV chef (and medical expert and diet expert and miracle device inventor)?

        • Hoss

          Brock, amateur and ultimately unsuccessful arborist.

        • Yowie

          Ah, the Energy Polarizer.
          It’s a real shame these fuel-saving technologies keep being suppressed by the conspiracy of oil companies and basic physics working against them.

        • Greg

          Indeed. Fundamental physics is well, sort of…. fundamental!

    • Ed

      If such a deal went through with RA, I wonder how long before Halloran and/or Gee Rob would be writing about the level of debt that would be on the books of whatever rugby organisation PE is “funding”?

      • Huw Tindall

        It’s not a typical PE play. They buy the commercial rights which are placed in a separate corporate vehicle. They have no control over the rules and teams etc. So RA should, in theory, be insulated from the commercial rights part of the rugby. It’s how they did the 6 Nations with CVC. Similar to the F1. It’s not a bad way to inject money and really professionalise the commercial and marketing elements of sport. KKR won’t be having a say on team selections with Dave Rennie!

        • Ed

          Thanks for the explanation Huw.
          Gee Rob’s latest article has comments from Hamish that SR level would be the one for PE. McLennan also says “”At the Super Rugby level it’s a way in which we can mitigate some financial risks but experiment with new rules and competitions.”
          If our comp has some laws no one else plays with, HTF does that prepare our players for tests? The Wallabies are still our cash cow.

        • Huw Tindall

          Bang on about the laws, that’s why they traditionally trial them at lower levels. 2020 is an exception though with COVID. Take heart that the Kiwis wouldn’t be experimenting with laws of they thought it’d stuff the ABs. Toomua talked about this on The Australian’s video forum the other day. Recommended watch btw.

        • Ed

          Thanks Huw. Will have a look, even it is on the Evil Empire.

        • Ed

          My concern regarding PE owning/running the second tier is would it make it harder for RA to have some control regarding the S&C of their main players on Wallabies contracts? Not that RA has much say as we saw in resting players with the Tahs last year.

        • Huw Tindall

          Valid concern but I’d think (hope!) it’s still ultimately a partnership. We know that if the Wallabies win interest at all levels go up so having strong alignment between Wallabies and 2nd tier is going to be important and even a benefit to the second tier. I don’t think we’ll get to a place like the Top 14 and Premiership where the clubs have so much money they can start pushing the National body around. Simply isn’t enough money unless we find a billionaire to buy each of the state franchises and chuck money at them regardless of the financial loss. To his credit Cheika did vastly improve alignment between Super and Wallabies teams and not just on sharing of data and S&C. He and the coaches were actively out there working with the teams and players of interest throughout the season. Sure it’s not a full centralised model a la NZ and Ireland but it was better than the past.

    • ATrain

      With any investor they would have to go into it seeking to get value out of there money.

      They want to tap into an existing revenue stream (like broadcast rights and merchandise sales and events earnings) and then grow revenues by increasing what they earn from the existing streams and perhaps introducing new products or additional ways to make money.

      For that we get some money upfront, we sacrifice a certain %age of our earnings going forward and we sacrifice some control over the development of the game but, if they are successful in developing additional revenue we might get a lesser share of a bigger pie and that could eventually deliver more money then our 100% of a smaller pie.

      But I still struggle to see how it works with Australian rugby just yet. We don’t have a TV deal past this season, we are still tied to SANZAAR so our decisions are not fully independent and they control all of our provincial content (if Super Rugby continues) and a large chunk of our internationals. I can see how an investor/partner in SANZAAR might work or in a Trans Tasman Japan rugby comp but not in one just based on Australia. We don’t have a national comp (apart from this years five team abridged Super Rugby tournament) and there is a lot to do to turn a national club comp or NRC into something that a private equity fund would be able to make money out of.

      It will take smarter minds than mine to work out how to make it work but luckily there are no shortage of those.

      • onlinesideline

        “all investors – value” – granted, but these PE guys are employees and at end of day accountable to the boss back in Park avenue. Twiggy OTH aint accountable to anyone accept the Almighty, his missus and the tribal elders. Translation: more flexible, more giving for health of the game.

        He is no rugby tragic but he has embraced the community spirit of the game with cold hard cash. 50 mill would have been peanuts for him. Yes he is no fool at the roundtable but last time I checked Private Equity didn’t win any awards for being civic minded. Just ask the junk bond king himself. Twiggy all the way – opportunity lost. Yes rugby needs a reality check but like it or not, rugby will always be rugby not BHP. At the end of the day rugby is a community service, made to keep middle age men sane and maybe turn a profit occasionally. The PE guys can vulture the upcoming Miami property crash but leave rugby alone. Not a fan – oil and water.

        • ATrain

          A lot I agree with OLSL. I didn’t intend for that to read as a defence of PE more my personal confusion as to how PE could work in our domestic situation (or even at a higher level) and I did acknowledge we would sacrifice control. I have said elsewhere that I never encountered much of the old school tie stuff or the city boy stuff but I acknowledge that others must have for the sentiment to be so commonly expressed. I do certainly pick up a snobbishness around the game around how we talk about AFL and NRL (particularly NRL where I am) – seeing them as bogan games.

          I think Australian rugby needs to find a voice that is uniquely its own, a style that suits us and our local viewers, but is still successful. I think we can do that if we are allowed to develop it (by allowed I mean if financial and political situations within and without allow). Overall I think PE would likely be a grave error. As I said above “they have to have value” and their motivations are different to Twiggy.

          I don’t know enough about Twiggy’s to pretend to fully understand his motivations but I definitely like his approach and the aims and goals and principles of GRR. I have outlined this elsewhere but I think we should take a two pronged approach to developing rugby in Australia and take Melbourne out of Super Rugby and enter it in GRR and also allow the investor that Twiggy had lined up in 2018 to introduce a western Sydney team to GRR. This would give GRR an 8 team comp – probably better than the current 6 because you could just run a full home and away and get 16 teams. RA would have to adopt the same principles around growing the game that GRR has set for its other clubs. GRR is (at least in the Asian franchises) more about developing in non-traditional areas and I think this suits what we need to do outside Sydney and Brisbane – the Force have proven it can be successful in an AFL dominated area.

          The other 3 Australian teams could play in Trans-Tasman but, in a few years, there might be an opportunity to merge those comps (but that is getting a bit Super Rugby ish too I guess). Personally, my first love is “community” and club (and I mean more here country club rugby) so I hope that is preserved regardless.

        • onlinesideline

          Points taken re first paragraph.

          Mate GRR was nothing but a “screw you”. From an aussie rugby tragic point of view, OK, its rugby, its growing the game and the WA community get a team to barrack for – all good. But lets be honest, it will never be top tier rugby. Would it have happened if the Force were not axed ? Nope. Im not against it but it wont do anything to address the fundamental problems in OZ rugby. Ive said it a million times, we should ditch the Saffas AND the kiwis and start a nationwide comp mirroring the NRL with 12-14 teams from ALL areas, including far north and country, providing pathways for schoolies across the country, rivaling NRL local tribalism, played at smaller venues during the day FTA. I would include in that comp at least 1 islander side, if not 2, make them based here in OZ (half of western sydney would go to matches) and see ya later kiwis, saffas, Japs. We are a sporting mad country that will always get behind a well designed and formatted comp representing local talent. More local derbies, sausage sizzles – Ive been wanging on for years about this. Covid may be the catalyst to make my vison come true and maybe its indeed PE that gives us the cash to try something new. Either way it looks like the stupidity of an international state side comp from Buenos Aires to Capetown via Tokyo is over, which is great. If we have to include the kiwis, we just have to grin and bear it, but when the camera pans in on the NZ women in the crowd, just look the other way for a few seconds.

        • Ed

          The NRL/AFL are the best/sole competitions for those codes. That would not apply for our domestic comp.
          Fans of rugby in Oz, while most likely to be happy with a domestic comp, would also acknowledge that what we would offer is not even the second or possibly third best version.

        • onlinesideline

          followers of 2nd and 3rd division english soccer know that too. But they don’t care, they go every week to their local stadium, to the pub afterwards and have been stumbling home with a belly full of lager for over 100 years. The recipe works. Its a day out, a full day out.

        • Ed

          I agree greed clouds much of what has happened with sport but unfortunately it has become a business.
          Top talent is more likely to make a better spectacle than the semi-pro competition you advocate for with 12-14 teams to mirror the NRL. Rugby in Oz does not have that much appeal. I really would like to see some of our second tier matches live on FTA but the time to have done that was when the original S12 deal finished in 2005, when the code still had a great profile.
          A difference between the fans of lower tiers of English soccer and sport in Oz is most of those English fans are prepared to pay to watch it on subscription TV. Also, the two major states for rugby in Australia don’t have that devotion to attend their team like in England nor say in Victoria re AFL.
          Those smaller clubs in England are being left further behind too.
          https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/02/29/globalisation-has-left-lower-league-football-clubs-behind

        • Andrew Luscombe

          Yeah – a sausage sizzle lead recovery.

          With onions?

        • onlinesideline

          Of course mate. Well done – tomatoe sauce, mustard, the works x 2. And grab four beers while your’re there mate. See you in half an hour.

        • Reds Revival

          ATrain, you are the first one I have ever seen suggest the Rebels go to GRR, and it is brilliant. It allows the three main teams to remain in Super Rugby (or similar), and two developing states to grow their own players. I like what Twiggy is doing with GRR. To me, it is similar to the BBL in cricket, in that he is trying to create a product that is for the fans, while creating a new market in the massive Asian market. As Elon Musk said “I try to imaogine what the world we be like in 10 years time, and then try to make it happen now”. That is precisely what Twiggy is doing – and more kudos to him.

        • ATrain

          The other thing I would do would be to extend half time by 5 minutes. As soon as the Super/GRR teams run off the field (and they would have to run) each sides 7s teams run on and they play a full game of 7s in the half time break. With the Olympics a major draw for a lot of the Asian countries a club 7s programme (where you could potentially use extended squad players) could be a great initiative. And some of these teams won’t be in the main world championship 7s programme so it would give them some exposure – the others, like Fiji, wouldn’t have a shortage of players that could fill in and be competitive.

          I wrote a full article the other day which I intended to submit around how we could partner with GRR to grow the game but I deleted it. I will pull my finger out and submit it. It’s great fun spending Twiggy’s money for him? ;)

        • Reds Revival

          I like your thinking with the half time game of 7’s. We need more left field ideas like this (which are obvious once you hear them)!

        • andrewM

          Last time I looked WA already had more players than the ACT and as soon as the local talent gets developed, guess where they go? Does nothing for the local teams long term

        • Huw Tindall

          Replied this elsewhere on the page but this is a better thread to drop it in :D

          It’s not a typical PE play. They buy the commercial rights which are placed in a separate corporate vehicle. They have no control over the rules and teams etc. So RA should, in theory, be insulated from the commercial rights part of the rugby. It’s how they did the 6 Nations with CVC. Similar to the F1. It’s not a bad way to inject money and really professionalise the commercial and marketing elements of sport. KKR won’t be having a say on team selections with Dave Rennie!

        • ATrain

          Thanks Huw – great explanation – that was what I was looking for.

      • Andrew Luscombe

        I think the private equity people would be expected to put the comp and TV deal into place. We aren’t tied to SANZAAR until there is a deal to extend, which isn’t in place yet. Australia dropping out can probably trigger NZ and SA dropping out also due to everyone’s contracts being contingent on everyone else’s.

      • Hoss

        You make your money when you buy something, not when you sell it and what a time to buy RA. Broke, completely clapped out and destitute on nearly all levels. Invest a bit now while they have bottomed out. I would suggest in terms of potential ROI its a fairly well placed investment. And let’s face it they bought a biscuit empire for billions, so a few hundred mill into a RA is chump-change for them and I would argue a shrewd betvestment.

    • Hoss

      You can’t blame the son for the sins of their fathers. New dawn. Let’s go.

  • Crescent

    Competition reset to zero points is barely a saving grace for Tahs fans – feels like we are just picking up from where we left off…..

    Prospects for improving aren’t great with the glaring weaknesses in the squad Penney inherited, and I haven’t seen any recruiting going on in the Rona Break to address those flaws.

    • Yowie

      Gold.

      Perhaps a handicap system like in amateur golf is in order?

      • Brisneyland Local

        Nah. then the Tahs would start handbraking to win on handicap.

        • Yowie

          But sandbagging during a rugby game would require a totally different repertoire of on-field handling techniques. Dropped balls, passes-to-nobody, etc. How would the Tahs manage such a fundamental shift?

        • Brisneyland Local

          To be honest they are doing it already. Now they just have a reason to!

        • Crescent

          That’s where the whole scheme falls over – once they start trying to do it on purpose, the ineptitude kicks in and we fail to even sandbag properly!

        • Yowie

          Haha, awesome. They try really hard to mess up but bounces go their way, crazy passes stick and they end up winning like the Harlem Globetrotters.

        • ATrain

          So if they Tahs try to play worse we might improve? Radical but it’s worth a go!

        • Brisneyland Local

          Yep considering the Tah factor yep I agree.

    • Hoss

      Hey – we are guaranteed a top 5 finish. 10-11 places higher than we were headed. Pessimist.

      • Crescent

        I knew I was missing something!

  • ATrain

    What are these personal ethics you speak of? Is that some new management jargon?

  • KwAussie Rugby Lover

    Thanks Jack. 3 July locked and loaded. It will be so good to get this up and going. I’m interested in the rule changes but not hugely enamoured by them, although I’ll wait and judge once I’ve seen a few games. I’m happy with the reset to zero and think with the Force coming in it’s actually the only real solution that makes sense. I personally think the Brumbies will be hard to beat but regardless looking forward to some good rugby. Maybe the team that takes advantage of the new rules the best will have an advantage.

    Interesting comments on KKR and will be interesting to see how the final package shapes up. I’m not sure a pure Trans Tasman or expanded Trans Tasman with PI or Japan will be worth as much as a competition with SA involved but certainly an interesting concept. I’m hoping the lower level rugby also starts on July. I am looking forward to getting out and refereeing again so hopefully it’s not just all about the Shute Shield.

  • Yowie

    Public service announcement unrelated to today’s news: Roy and HG are back to having a weekly radio show on the ABC and you can download the podcasts.

    I found out fairly recently and have been working through the older episodes while commuting.

    • Damo

      Yep caught part of it last Saturday (I think) and rugby was on the running sheet- albeit with a fair dose of R&HG piss taking.

  • ATrain

    English Premier Rugby are cutting (or trying to – players aren’t so keen) their salary caps by 1 million pounds. I wonder if this is just a temporary thing or we are starting to see a longer term adjustment to player salaries. It could have implications for our blokes looking for a bigger pay day OS and also offer up a greater supply of players to Japan perhaps limiting the places available there.

    • Reds Revival

      You’re on the money today ATrain! I agree that English club owners are trying to reel their biggest expense in, because they know that the ROI is likely to be substantially reduced in the coming months. It is also an opportunity to “right the ship” a little. The lure for Oz players might not be as string as they hoped it would be.
      Aussie Rugby is not completely dead just yet.

  • Hoss

    I prefer the ‘gangster of love’

    • onlinesideline

      i bet you do Snickers

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