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Australian rugby union is 'close to momentous change'

By Paul Smith
Australia is considering moving to a central model

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Rugby union in Australia is reported to be on the brink of momentous change.

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According to Fox Sports, the sport’s governing body Rugby Australia is seeking to take control of the country’s five Super Rugby franchises.

In the process they would adopt a similar model to Ireland and New Zealand who have for some years controlled the finances and operation of their leading provinces.

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Under the proposal, Rugby Australia will be responsible for everything from sponsorship and finance to the appointment of coaching staff and player signings.

This would enable Australia to maximise its playing and coaching resources by ensuring talent is evenly spread across its domestic sides and as a result reduce player drain to the Northern Hemisphere.

This would reduce the likelihood of the 2017 situation which saw Wallabies star Quade Cooper frozen out of the Reds by new boss Brad Thorn being repeated.

Similarly, Izack Rodda, who wanted to leave the Reds in 2020, went overseas before returning to Western Force in 2021.

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Through the removal of duplicated costs, it will also help the sport get back on its feet following the damage done by COVID-19.

Rugby Australia chairman and former News Corp executive Hamish McLennan is said to be the principle driving force behind the move towards a centralised model.

He told Fox: “For the good of the game, we’re absolutely committed to doing it.”

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RA boss Andy Marinos and the board which includes former Wallabies Daniel Herbert and Phil Waugh are also said to back the innovative proposal.

Importantly, the shift to a central model is also believed to have the support of the Super Rugby franchises.
This is perhaps the most significant factor, since previous attempts to move Australia – where rugby union faces tough competition from Australian Rules and rugby league as well as soccer – in this direction have been strongly opposed.

Perhaps due to the impact of COVID-19, this proposal represents a major shift in direction for a governing body whose DOR Scott Johnson rejected centralisation as recently as late 2019.

“I don’t think we can be centralised, we are not a copy-cat country,” the former Scotland and Wales boss said at that time.

“We like the point of differences that the provincial teams bring, but I do believe we should have an aligned system.”

According to Fox’s ‘sources in Rugby Australia’ agreement to move to the new model – which is described as “the biggest change since we went professional” – could be in place by the end of 2021.

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