Forget another tier, grow club rugby
February 19, 2013
New ARU boss Bill Pulver has walked into the inevitable annual debate around the depth of Australian rugby. © Getty Images
What is the safest bet in Australian rugby?
The wayward Wallabies to win the toughest Test of their season and lose their easiest fixture ... no.
Someone who should know better out at Moore Park to proclaim "This is the year of the Waratahs", only for them to fall into a heap ... no, not that one either.
Quade Cooper to be baited by All Blacks fans ... no, not even that one.
These bleeding obvious statements don't compare to the safest bet of all that some official at this time of the year either spruiks the latest whiz-bang Super Rugby expansion proposal, or pushing yet another north meets south competition. It is as inevitable as a scrum collapse in the opening minutes of a Test match.
The latest, greatest rugby plan to take over the world is published this time every year and is so boring, so predictable, that it compares to those misguided fools who keep pushing in Australia hare-brain proposals for a third-tier competition. Illogical stuff, which all attract wacky headlines and unnecessary hysteria.
As for any of these ideas actually getting past first base, good luck!
You could even run a sweep over which SANZAR official will in February call for Super Rugby expansion into Asia, the Pacific Islands or even the Congo, and you would always get a clear-cut winner. And then there's the number of teams they will call for. Will it be a Super 18, a Super 20, even a Super 100? The sky's the limit.
This year, it all revolves around the introduction of the United States and Canada into the Pacific Nations Cup, being a prelude to them being in an expanded Super Rugby competition from 2016. That's alongside teams from Japan and Argentina also supposedly being under consideration.
So we may actually have Super Rugby teams playing at the OK Corral, and Medicine Hat. Mongolia in winter is also apparently very enchanting.
Wouldn't it be smarter for officials to instead focus their energies on getting the current competition right? At the moment, there is constant angst about the incessant travel, the cluttered itinerary, the lopsidedness of the Super conferences, and the irritation that teams no longer play everyone else. And there is no breathing space with every weekend taken up with a glut of games. Saturation encourages a snooze-athon.
The Super Rugby schedule is far from perfect, as indicated in recent weeks where the Australian provinces have been whingeing over the threat of losing key players in the lead up to the finals because of the British and Irish Lions tour.
So why make the schedule more bewildering by adding more teams? Fifteen sides is several too many. The lack of depth in Australian Rugby has seen the talent spread far too thinly in their five teams. As injuries hit, you soon discover numerous Australian provincial players running around well short of Super Rugby standard, but have to be picked as there's no-one else. The whole competition suffers.
A clogged representative itinerary also makes you wonder why people keep pushing for competitions involving the top SANZAR and English Premiership teams. When are they going to play these? During the half-time break in Test matches maybe? And how are you going to align the north and south seasons?
This is as exasperating as hearing about third-tier Australian competition proposals, with even calls for a revival of the Australian Rugby Championship. The dinosaurs pushing that ridiculous concept have conveniently forgotten it was a financial flop in its only year of operation in 2007, and interest among the punters was minimal.
Instead it's about time officials tried to help, rather than put the boot into the code's solid base - club rugby. It may actually surprise those marketing spivs who love to take charge of the game to discover the club rugby structure in Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra continues to develop Wallabies, and thrives on an enthusiastic volunteer base who will do anything for the game.
All club rugby needs is nourishment not continual cutting of funds from those above. Open your eyes officials. The jewel is actually sitting right there in front of your feet.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September