Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey

Australian Turnstiles: Future of Super Rugby

The future of at least one Australian Super Rugby franchise appears to be bleak after reports emerged from South Africa that two teams will be cut from the 2018 competition.

Super Rugby has gradually expanded over the years, having had humble beginnings as a provincial South Pacific tournament as far back as the late 1980s. The re-admittance of South Africa into international sport post-apartheid and the advent of professional rugby led to the creation of the Super 12 in 1996, consisting of five teams from New Zealand, four from South Africa, and three from Australia. The competition has continued to evolve and in its present form contains six teams from South Africa, five from New Zealand, five from Australia and one each from Argentina and Japan.

 

Expansion has come at a cost though; the tournament has traditionally been dominated by New Zealand teams (having won 14 of 21 championships) leaving many fans wondering whether talent is spread too thinly – particularly in Australia, the conference system is clunky, and travel is an increasingly important issue. Growing disquiet led to a review being conducted during private meetings in London. While rumours of the outcome fly around in abundance, the boss of the Free State Cheetahs in South Africa has been quoted as confirming the loss of one franchise from each of South Africa and Australia. While the participating countries have supposedly reached agreement, a final announcement won’t be made until television broadcasters give their approval, as it is their backing that ensures money is injected into the tournament.

 

As the most credible voice yet, this has added fuel to the fire in Australia regarding which team should be culled. As the traditional rugby strongholds, it appears as though New South Wales and Queensland are safe. That leaves the ACT Brumbies, Melbourne Rebels and Western Force. It would be disappointing for rugby in this country to see any of the teams go after so much effort and money has gone into trying to grow and expand the game. Our summary of the case for and against for each of the three teams in the firing line is below.

 

  1. ACT Brumbies (Home ground: GIO Stadium Canberra)

 

If you had asked us a few years ago whether the Brumbies would possibly be cut from Super Rugby, we’d have rightly dismissed you. The Brumbies were formed to be Australia’s third rugby franchise as Super Rugby was born in 1996, however rugby in the ACT existed in the form of a strong club competition and their representative provincial team, the ACT Kookaburras. The ACT for a short time also fielded a team in the NSW Shute Shield, losing the 1995 Grand Final to Gordon. Largely formed by locals and rejects from the larger states, the Brumbies quickly established themselves as the dominant cultural force in Australian rugby. They’re Australia’s most successful Super Rugby franchise, having won the championship twice and making the semi-finals on six occasions. However, recent years have been less kind to the Brumbies – especially when it comes to issues of governance, hence their inclusion on this list.

 

  1. Melbourne Rebels (Home ground: AAMI Stadium)

 

Melbourne twice bid unsuccessfully for a Super Rugby franchise before being admitted in 2011. The Rebels have not been particularly successful on the field, and have never had a winning season. While rugby has struggled to gain a foothold in a market dominated by AFL, the game has been played in the southern capital for many years and has produced numerous Australian representatives; most notably Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop – a war hero (WWII) and the first Victorian born player to represent Australia. The Rebels are uniquely placed as the only privately owned franchise however they simply don’t seem to have much support amongst the locals. Will they ever?

 

  1. Western Force (nib Stadium)

 

The Force made their Super Rugby debut in 2006, beating out Melbourne to become Australia’s fourth franchise. They received the tick of approval on the back of state government investment in stadia, local support, and an understanding that Perth is uniquely situated as a logical stop-over point between Australia and South Africa. Like the Rebels, the Force have struggled to win games and have only finished in the top half of the table once – in 2007. They’ve also struggled financially, and were hamstrung by a failed sponsorship early on. They’re currently owned and operated by the Australian Rugby Union; not a good sign.

 

Where to from here?

 

First things first – five teams in Australia and six in South Africa should probably have never happened in the first place. As a result, the tournament is unbalanced –especially since adding the Japanese and Argentinean teams. Also, a Pacific Islands team should have been included long ago. Travel wasn’t an issue when it was an even playing field for all teams. Realising the difficulty in contraction we suggest the below format, which involves losing only one SA team (Southern Kings) and replacing them with a PI team.

 

  • Eighteen teams:

    • Five teams from Australia

    • Five teams from New Zealand

    • Five teams from South Africa

    • One each from:

      • Japan

      • Argentina

      • Pacific Islands

  • Split into three divisions

  • Season comprises of sixteen matches per team

    • Play each team within conference once each home and away

    • Play three inter-division games from each of the other two divisions (alternate each year – e.g. AUS teams play each team in NZ and SA divisions every second year)

  • Eight team finals series modelled from AFL system

    • Top two from each division

    • Two wild cards

    • Rank teams from 1st through 8th

    • 1st vs 4th, 2nd vs 3rd, 5th vs 8th, 6th vs 7th

    • Two highest ranked winning teams direct to preliminary finals

    • Two lowest ranked losing teams eliminated

    • Remaining four teams play semi-finals to qualify for preliminary finals

    • Winners of preliminary finals play in Grand Final

 

AUS

NZ

SA

NSW Waratahs

Auckland Blues

Free State Cheetahs

QLD Reds

Canterbury Crusaders

Natal Sharks

ACT Brumbies

Otago Highlanders

Northern Bulls

Western Force

Waikato Chiefs

Transvaal Lions

Melbourne Rebels

Wellington Hurricanes

Western Stormers

Japan Sunwolves

Pacific Islanders

Argentina Jaguares



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Change could also be afoot in the NRL. News Ltd papers have leaked a bold plan by the North Sydney Bears to purchase the Gold Coast Titans for $7m. The Titans are currently operated by the league, having been placed in voluntary administration in 2015. The Bears haven’t played in the top flight since 1999. As a foundation club “Norths” played at North Sydney Oval and had planned to relocate to Gosford, playing out of Central Coast Stadium. Unfortunately circumstance led to a failed merger in 2000 with the Manly Sea Eagles, before the Bears were consigned to live on only in the “second division” NSW Cup. Since then Norths supporters have agitated for a return to the NRL by various means. Rugby league has a chequered history on the Gold Coast; it’s regarded as a heartland but is also a wasteland of failed national sporting franchises across a litany of sports. It remains to be seen whether the NRL would allow the purchase, let alone even a partial relocation or name change, but one thing is for certain – there is fight in the Bears yet.

 

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As we predicted, the Sydney Uni Flames have run away with the WNBL Championship, beating Dandenong in two straight games. It’s the Flames’ first title since 2001 back when they were still known as the Sydney Panthers. A replay of Game 2 is available on YouTube.

 

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In other grand final news, the Sydney Sirens recently won the Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League, defeating the Brisbane Goannas 4-3 after a shootout in front of their home crowd. It was a fitting end to a perfect season for the Sirens who secured their maiden title.

 

The AIHL (Men) gets underway next month, with both Sydney teams having relocated to Macquarie Ice Rink in Sydney’s north west. The Sydney Bears are moving for the second time in recent years, having headed west to Penrith from Baulkham Hills, while the Sydney Ice Dogs have previously called Liverpool Catholic Club home. The rink at Macquarie was recently refurbished and has a capacity of 2,200, and has the bonus of being centrally located in a major shopping and business precinct with great transport links.

 

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This week saw the commencement of the Queen’s Baton Relay, signalling the official lead up period to the 2018 Commonwealth Games to be held on the Gold Coast. The relay will pass through every Commonwealth nation before the Opening Ceremony on April 4, 2018. The Games will utilise C-Bus Super Stadium (Gold Coast Titans – NRL) and Metricon Stadium (Gold Coast Suns – AFL). It has also emerged that the 2022 Commonwealth Games hosting rights have been removed from the city of Durban, South Africa due to financial constraints. Early cities being mentioned as possible replacements include Edmonton, Melbourne, Perth, Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool. The most recent city to be mentioned is Sydney, which has almost all infrastructure still in place from hosting the Summer 2000 Olympics. ANZ Stadium would again be used as the main stadium, which would require an athletics track to be retrofitted. It remains to be seen what impact would have on the planned $1.3B plan to renew the harbour city’s stadia, a significant part of which involved permanently configuring ANZ into a rectangular playing surface.

 

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We close off the Turnstiles this week with one for the trivia buffs; March 15th marked the 140th anniversary of the first ever cricket test match which was played between Australia and England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and won by the Aussies by the margin of 45 runs. That means this date is also the 40th anniversary of the “Centenary Test” played in 1977 to commemorate the first match. The Centenary Test was memorable for a number of reasons, not least of which was the amazing coincidence of Australian winning by the exact same margin as the first test – 45 runs!

 

We also note the tremendous courage of Australian batsman Rick McCosker who famously batted in the second innings with his face covered in bandages after having had his jaw broken by a bouncer in the first innings by English speedster Bob Willis. There were no helmets in those days and fast bowlers deliver the ball at a similar speed to pitchers in baseball. Incredible stuff!


Our last memorable moment from that game involves two legends who are sadly no longer with us; David Hookes and Tony Grieg. The youngster Hookes, who was on debut, brashly belted English captain Greig for five successive fours on his way to 56. We don’t like cricket, we love it!


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