The Super Rugby season is in the first round of matches but significantly very little of the discussion in rugby circles is about rugby but rather the confusion and makeup of the competition itself.
The future of the five Australian franchises has come under the microscope, with the Western Force and even the multiple championship-winning Brumbies tipped to face the axe if governing body SANZAAR reduces the number of teams.
This has been a revolving subject over the last year or two and the mere fact that it is still making headlines before the season doesn’t bode well for some of the Australian teams.
The unwieldy 18-team, four-conference format has done more to confuse even the most ardent of fans than engage them in what looks like a never-ending drama.
In the short-term the only possible saviour for the Australian franchises is the broadcast agreement that runs to 2020 but the revival of a trans-Tasman type competition is a possibility, with South Africa to aligning itself to Europe.
This subject on whether to join the Six Nations or not has been on the agenda in South Africa for a while now and it wouldn’t surprise me if they defected to the UK and Europe in the near future which would put Southern Hemisphere rugby in turmoil.
Worse, there is even a possibility the ARU could be isolated from mainstream representative rugby if New Zealand set up something with the South Africans, which is a possibility based on TV ratings and potentially increased finances. This could leave Australian rugby with nothing more than a glorified NRC competition and an inconsistent national team.
Then there is the continual player drain to Europe, which Australian rugby simply cannot match, resulting in a reduction of the quality of the code in an already competitive sporting market.
So where does rugby in this country sit at the moment?
I presume somewhere down the bottom of the rung and the continuing speculation and indecision off the field will distract players, supporters and importantly sponsors from committing themselves to the game they play in heaven.
And we all thought that Australian rugby’s biggest problems were on the field after a lacklustre 2016 in which all five Australian Super Rugby franchises and the Wallabies under performed. And the last thing the code needs is uncertainty off the field. The game’s administrators do all they can to provide the coaching staff with the best players and support staff so it’s about time the players lived up to their hype by delivering the goods and living up to their sometimes exorbitant reputations.
A coach is only as good as his players and not necessarily the other way around, although many coaches, past and current, may take offence at that.
A young Wallabies backline tested the All Blacks in 1980 to win the Bledisloe Cup series in Australia coached by the late Bob Templeton, who gave his new recruits every opportunity to show their talents.
Much the same can be said of Bob Dwyer who never tried to over coach my brothers and me in the late 1970s when we played at Randwick, allowing us to run riot. So perhaps the secret of success lies within the determination and desire of the players and not so much the coach.
So based on my simple logic, the pressure is rightfully on the players to lift their game. Or, in fact, do we have enough quality players around Australia to sustain five franchises? The answer is no. But at the end of the day, whether you agree with me or not, both groups must work cohesively together and I really don’t care what, who, why or how they collaborate as long as they deliver the results that we, the loyal supporters, are screaming out for, success!
In my opinion, the pressure still remains on the Force and Melbourne Rebels to perform and not so much on the Brumbies, who have won two Super Rugby Championships. The Force have been around a long time and have done everything within their scope to keep rugby alive in Perth but this season must determine their longevity because support from SANZAAR and the ARU must surely be waning.