10 positives in Australian rugby to look forward to in the decade ahead
By Sam Ryan
It’s hasn’t been a lot of fun to be an Australian rugby fan over the past few years and there’s still likely to be some dark days to come.
Rugby in Australia, like most sports right around the world, will look significantly different on the other side of COVID-19 but in our case, that may not be such a bad thing.
In fact, most Australian rugby fans have been crying out for change for quite some time and this terrible period of history could just be the catalyst that was needed.
It’s most likely going to get worse before it gets better, but there’s a fair bit to look forward to both on and off the field on the other side of all of this, provided we can scrape through.
Those in charge of our game have a crucial role to play in the next 12-24 months but initially, the new noises coming out of Moore Park seem to be positive.
Culturally and financially, rugby in Australia can be in a significantly better place by the end of the decade and here’s a few reasons why.
There was never a need to Make Club Rugby Great Again, it always has and always will be. The byproduct of the dismal performances of our professional teams over the past five years was that Australian rugby fans remembered why they loved club footy and that’s not going to change any time soon.
Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra club rugby is thriving but you’ll have just as much fun on a Saturday arvo at most rugby clubs right around the country.
The Bathurst Bulldogs ended the Orange Emus premiership run in the Central West NSW competition last year. Head out that way for a weekend when it’s allowed and you won’t be disappointed.
No other Australian club sport has a culture quite as good as rugby.
Restructured, slimmed down governing bodies
If the AFL and NRL are already planning massive structural and organisational change, then Rugby Australia has no choice but to do the same.
There’s been a huge disconnection over the past decade between those running rugby in Australia and those actually involved in rugby in Australia but those days seem numbered.
At both national and state level, the corporate and football costs of the governing bodies will need to shrink dramatically and that actually could be a positive.
In the office, it means fewer staff with greater accountability while on the field, it’s fewer coaches and less of the academies that have turned some modern rugby players into robots.
Revamped professional competition
In the years to come, COVID-19 will likely be viewed as the final nail in the coffin of Super Rugby. Most of us realised the competition was broken some time ago but now the idea of playing across five countries and 400 different time zones seems even more absurd.
The good news is, New Zealand appear to be coming to the party and there seems to be genuine interest and movement towards some sort of Trans Tasman/Asian/Pacific provincial competition played in a regional bubble and in similar time zones.
It also doesn’t hurt to have a billionaire with an interest in rugby and a team with no one to play at the moment.
The best crop of young Australian talent that we’ve seen in decades
The last few years have been tough but it has allowed the Wallabies and the Australian Super Rugby sides to blood a lot of seriously talented young players who are all pushing towards their mid 20s.
Brad Thorn’s crop of forwards in Queensland are the real deal and still growing into their bodies. Issac Lucas is more Matt Giteau than Matt Giteau, Angus Bell is the type of prop we’ve dreamed of producing and our young No.10s ticked a lot of boxes in the opening weeks of their professional careers.
Womens and girls rugby
Considering where women’s rugby in Australia was 10 years ago, it’s quite remarkable to see how far the game has come and it’s even more exciting to think where it could be in another 10 years.
Led by Charlotte Caslick and our gold medal winning Sevens team, girls around the country don’t want to watch their brothers play on a Saturday, they want to be out there as well. Whether its Sevens or XVs, the potential for the sport is huge.
Global Nations Championship and the cash that comes with it
Northern Hemisphere backed Bill Beaumont may have been re-elected as World Rugby boss over the weekend but the challenge by Agustin Pichot appears to have put a number of issues, including an annual international tournament, well and truly back on the agenda.
If the Southern Hemisphere Test window was pushed from July to October and the Rugby Championships moved forward slightly, rugby fans could watch Test rugby continually through to the end of November, with points from the Six Nations (played earlier in the year) and the Rugby Championships counting towards an end of year playoff series between the top countries in the world.
The broadcast deals, propped up by the big dollars in the UK and Europe, would be shared between all participating nations, which would be a massive financial gain for Australia and New Zealand.
The national bodies and provincial clubs in the UK and Europe hold the keys to all of this, but talk of the tournament won’t go away.
2025 British and Irish Lions tour
While domestically rugby may struggle to catch the AFL and NRL this decade, the global appeal of our sport is something those codes can only dream of.
The British and Irish Lions return to Australia in 2025 and will bring with them arguably the most entertaining touring party, both on and off the field, of any sport in any country.
Not only does the Lions tour give us six weeks of quality rugby and banter in practically any Australian pub you walk into, but the once in every 12-year tour also puts more than $30 million into Australian rugby’s piggy bank.
2027 Rugby World Cup
Following on from the momentum of the Lions tour in 2025, Australia are also favourites to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup.
The 2015, 2019 and 2023 World Cups will all be played in the Northern Hemisphere so the 2027 tournament was expected to be awarded to either Argentina or Australia.
But Argentina pulled out of the race to host the tournament earlier this year which leaves Australia as the odds on favourites.
A decision will be made in early 2021 and positive news on that front will add further momentum behind the potential resurgence of rugby in Australia.
2023 Rugby World Cup
Provided a vaccine can be sorted at some point between now and then, the idea of spending a few weeks watching rugby in the south of France sounds pretty good right now, doesn’t it?
Anyone lucky enough to be in Japan for last year’s Rugby World Cup will bore you with how much fun it was and while France will be different, and hopefully a little less weird, it’ll be well worth the trip for those that can.
Early mornings, sausage sizzles, the smell of Dencorub in the change rooms. After this break, we’ll never take Saturday’s in winter for granted again and hopefully, it’s not too far away.