Wednesday’s Rugby News looks at the players’ response to a Super Rugby ‘deadline’, how the Reds are planning to bounce back, RA’s hopes for the Bledisloe and NZ’s response to Australia’s future plans
Unity on deadline
There are not many things that will bring Australia’s Super Rugby forwards together besides from a half-price, all you eat banquet.
However, we can one more thing to the list after they came together (without them knowing) to applaud the move by Rugby Australia’s CEO Rob Clarke to put a deadline on their Kiwis counterparts for rugby’s domestic future.
The deadline for potential broadcasters to respond to the broadcast package offered by RA has been set at September 4, which is the timeline Clarke set down as “D Day” for the Kiwis to declare their position for their domestic future.
Wallabies and Rebels hooker Jordan Uelese applauded the bold move by Clarke and RA as it provides players with much-needed clarity and security regarding their future.
“Many of us players in Australia are not too sure about what the future’s going to hold,” he said.
“So having this kind of plan, having a (set) date, is huge and it’s big ups to the RA and the board putting plans ahead so then we can lock in our future.
“Our life span as footy players is not very long so having that future here in Australian rugby is huge for us players who want to stay here and hopefully for future Wallabies who want to stay in Australia.”
These sentiments were echoed by part-time rockstar and Waratahs prop Harry Johnson-Holmes, who suggests that they need to push for a decision so they can plan their futures.
“Clarity’s massive for us as players,” he said.
“We’re focused on the current competition being Super Rugby AU and that’s where our minds are at the moment.
“To have a bit of certainty around where the game’s going is great.
“I think it’s good to be able to push the Kiwis along to make a decision, regardless of which direction they go.”
Back to basics
As the Reds look to bounce back after their shock thumping against the Waratahs, Brad Thorn’s men have emphasised going back to basics as they push for a finals berth.
Whilst their disappointing lineouts have been a talking point across the season, loose forward Angus Scott-Young believes that they need to simplify the process in order to avoid over-complicating the issue.
“I guess if you think about it a lot you can build it up to be a big issue,” Scott-Young said.
“Lineouts they should be pretty simple, we should get in, get up, steal the ball, win the ball and play on.
“I think for us this week, massive focus for us is going back to basics. Using those options that we know, find space and focusing on our drill.”
With the prospect of playing more state v state games on the horizon as part of the new broadcast deal, Scott-Young believes that rugby union’s version of league’s ‘gem’ will develop some much-needed excitement after a turbulent 12 months.
“I think State of Origin’s the gem of rugby league. I think we can translate that to a union context and I think it should generate some excitement, which I think is well needed at the moment,” he believes.
“We’ve had a tough time with COVID in the past and any new innovation, any new product we can really bring to entice broadcasters is awesome.
“I think it’s pretty exciting.”
For now, the Reds are relishing the thought of back-to-back games on home soil after a series of FIFO games that had them arriving back home in the middle of the night.
“Those two interstate trips, they’re pretty long, long haul. We get back, I think 2am at the airport so this weekend Suncorp and then next weekend the Gold Coast I believe will be awesome,” he revealed.
“Not as much travel time, can sleep in our own beds, I think that’ll be really good for our game prep and hopefully we start well.”
A New (Bledisloe) Hope
Before they sort out the rugby schedule for 2021 and beyond, Rugby Australia has still got to figure out the delicate matter that is where the Bledisloe Cup will be played.
RA CEO Rob Clarke has indicated that they are still hoping for at least two games to be played in Australia, however, has conceded that troubles related to the COVID-19 outbreak may put a hold to that.
“Ideally you would want them in Australia to reward your fans, so they could come and watch the game and certainly from a commercial point of view, we have many corporate supporters and we’d want to reward them as well,” he said.
“Our number one priority is to try and get these games in Australia and we’re working with various governments to see what the potential crowds might be and what limitations might be placed on match day crowds.
“That will have an influence on at least where one of the games might be played.
“If everything turned negative then, yes, one of the scenarios could be that we play those two Bledisloes in NZ capitalizing on the opportunities they present and that has been factored into our thinking but certainly isn’t our preference.”
If they get the clearance, Clarke has revealed that they will go ‘star wars’, with games 3 and 4 played in Australia in October before they play game 1 and 2 in The Rugby Championship in the following month, which has been all but confirmed to be played in NZ.
However, any further delay will likely limit the series to two games as the code attempt to avoid a Boxing Day Bledisloe.
“That’ll be Christmas, that’s the issue,” he said. “At this point in time, the TRC’s scheduled to kick off on the 7th of November and not finish until possibly the 12th of December.
“There’s no time at the back end of the TRC to play any more matches.
“The two Bledisloes, it’s a bit like Star Wars numbering system, numbers three and four Bledisloes will be played first on the 10th and 17th of October, hopefully here in Australia and then numbers one and two will be played as part of the Rugby Championship in New Zealand later in November.”
All Blacked into a corner
With Rugby Australia making their intentions clear, their NZ counterparts have been scrambling to work out their future for 2021.
According to The Australian, there have already been enquiries from NZR to Pacifica players from NZ and Australia about their eligibility for a Kiwi-based Pasifika Super Rugby team in 2021.
In a further sign of disrespect to Australian rugby, they also suggest that New Zealand officials have approached the Western Force about giving the ‘east coast mafia’ the middle finger and join their domestic competition.
The bold call from RA has forced their NZ counterparts to weigh up their hand after their initial ‘expression of interest’ bluff, with All Blacks coach Ian Foster flouting the importance of having a ‘competitive competition’ just a fortnight ago.
“We’ve got to do whatever we can to get competitive teams against our teams,” he said.
“We‘re pretty secure in our five so once they (Australia) get their number, I guess we sit around and have a conversation.
“It‘s got to be competitive, it’s got to be financially viable.
“We‘ve seen in the past (with Super Rugby) that if you let in teams that actually can’t survive, then you’ve got to keep changing the competition around.”
With their buff called and a re-raise from Clarke and co, NZR could now be forced to reopen negotiations in order to come to a compromise or fall victim to their own concerns of a ‘watered-down’ competition.
This could see the prospect of regional teams that are currently competing in the ITM Cup being added to the competition if they fail to attract interest from overseas teams.
Meanwhile, South Africa remains the Shannon Noll of the group as they try and get over the initial hurdle of restarting their domestic competition before sorting out their future.
Only last week, the South African government has approved the return to play conditions for professional rugby, with the first matches set to be played in early to mid-September.