Waratahs season proves Australia might not need Super Rugby but we need to play New Zealand
By Sam Ryan
There has been plenty of debate about the future of Super Rugby, SAANZAR and rugby as a whole in the southern hemisphere as the next round of broadcast negotiations approach in 2020.
Many think South Africa may soon look north to Europe, others suggest Japan and Argentina must go and some believe Australia should tear the whole thing a part and go it alone.
Before we get into that though, it’s worth looking back at how the whole thing started.
Earlier this year, I caught up with former ARU Chairman Bruce Hayman, one of a handful of men who essentially created Super Rugby or Super 12 as it was then known.
It’s worth a read if you’ve got the time but one of the main things I took from the conversation was that Super Rugby was a competition built for TV, as all three major southern hemisphere rugby nations looked to compete against deep pocketed rugby league clubs in the midst of the Super League war.
A lot has changed since then, but at the moment it’s difficult to see broadcasters around the world paying much more to broadcast Super Rugby than they did a few years ago.
So change in some form is fairly likely.
One option being thrown around is for Australia to leave Super Rugby and set up its own domestic competition.
Personally, I’m not a fan and I think the Waratahs 2018 campaign is a perfect example of why we must compete against at least New Zealand at a provincial level to remain competitive on the international stage and be relevant in the Australian sporting market.
As we head towards the June Test break, the Waratahs lead the Australian conference and have won six of their 11 games.
Had the Tahs been playing in a domestic competition in 2018, they’d be heading towards a June Test series, Bledisloe Cup, Rugby Championship and eventually a World Cup full of confidence, having won their fair share of matches to start the year.
To be fair, their isn’t a whole lot between the Tahs, Reds, Rebels and Brumbies this year and a number of results in our hypothetical domestic competition could have gone either way, but that’s irrelevant for this discussion.
The point I’m making is that our Wallabies would not be properly prepared to play the world’s best sides.
Imagine flying to Auckland to play in your first Bledisloe Cup match at Eden Park, having never played a New Zealand side before, or at least in the last 12 months.
I get scared watching the haka on TV, I can only imagine what it would feel like to stand in New Zealand and face it.
A month ago, the Waratahs had lost just two of their first nine matches.
They were dreadful against the Lions in Sydney, then blew a number of chances to beat the Blues a week later.
They then headed to Christchurch to play the competition’s most successful side of all time and produced their best performance of the season.
Sure, the end result wasn’t great but from that game, the Waratahs started to truly believe that they were good enough to not just compete against the Kiwis but to beat them.
A week later, they ended Australia’s 40-game Super Rugby drought, albeit with the help of some flying Highlander feet.
Similarly in 2014, the Tahs defeated the Chiefs in New Plymouth at a similar point of the season and went undefeated from that point on to win their first ever Super Rugby title.
They face that same challenge this weekend.
I’m not suggesting that Australia are going to start dominating New Zealand because we won a single Super Rugby game, but I know for a fact that any Waratahs player that ends up in a gold jersey later this year will be better for the experiences of the past month.
The same goes for Australia’s other Super Rugby sides, like the Reds who almost knocked off the Hurricanes over there last week.
No one in Australian rugby will be happy until we win back the Bledisloe Cup and start doing so consistently.
Based on that alone, we need to play New Zealand sides at every opportunity.
It’s a terrible, terrible cliche but if you want to be the best, you need to beat the best and that couldn’t be truer for Australian rugby going forward.