Concerning comments from RugbyWA Chairman John Edwards suggests that things are not all peachy in Western Australia.
After being unceremoniously dropped from Super Rugby at the end of 2017, it seemed like the Western Force were doomed to be retired – there was no competition for the team to take part in and little funding provided by the Australian Rugby Union to keep the team alive.
Fans were understandably furious. The Force were dropped at the expense of the Melbourne Rebels – a team with little history and inferior results to the Western Australian team.
It was only when Australian businessman and Force fan Andrew Forrest stepped in to fund a breakaway competition that life was breathed into the Force.
What has eventuated is Global Rapid Rugby, a competition that is barely in its infantile stages but, from the way Edwards is talking, could be on the brink of collapsing.
The first game of this year’s showcase series saw the Western Force competing against a World XV coached by ex-Australia coach Robbie Deans. As with last year’s matches, the crowd was respectable. Almost 11,500 fans turned up to see the Force take the match 26-16, but the attendance figures dropped off considerably for the next match – against the South China Tigers – with fewer than 8,000 showing up in support.
The drop off should not be surprising. Whilst a World XV has a universal appeal, with numerous ex-international lacing up, the Tigers lacked any real star players – a fading Tom Varndell the only name of note.
Edwards, however, has indicated that fans will need to turn out in droves regularly if the Force are to have any chance of continuing to operate.
“I see worrying trends and history looming if WA’s rugby community does not fully embrace the Force. I implore you all to consider your own role in maintaining both the Western Force and the exceptional rugby pathways,” Edwards has said in response to the falling attendance figures.
“It’s no secret that (Forrest) has pumped significant funds into the re-creation of Western Force and Global Rapid Rugby.
“It should also be no secret that the Force must be able to stand on its own feet financially.
“This will be the expectation for all teams joining the tournament. It will not survive if you don’t play your part.”
The high attendance figures for the Force’s initial revival series last year should be expected – fans were excited to see there team back playing competitive rugby – but now that the newness has worn off, it also should be expected that attendances will drop back to what you see for Australia’s Super Rugby teams, especially when the Force are playing weaker opposition.
Still, with Forrest still trying to encourage foreign teams to join the competition, Edwards’ words won’t be taken fondly by many. Why join a competition that hinges on a team that is on the edge of extinction?
It seems like the Force are teetering on the precipice. If Western Australians want to have any hope of being represented in top-tier competitions in the future then they’ll have to speak with their feet and turn up for the remaining games in this year’s Global Rapid Rugby competition – Edwards has made that abundantly clear.
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