Reports suggest that Australia want all five of their Super Rugby AU sides to take part in a mooted trans-Tasman competition but unless rule changes even out the competition, New Zealand have little to gain from bending to Australia’s wishes.
Prior to Super Rugby’s suspension, the Brumbies had fought well to earn themselves second spot on the overall ladder. The Reds, Rebels and Waratahs, meanwhile, had earned just four wins between them against teams from outside the Australian conference. Just one of those wins came against a New Zealand side – to go with the Brumbies’ win over the Chiefs.
Since 2015, Australian teams have won just 3 matches from 49 attempts on New Zealand soil.
It’s abundantly clear from the above that Australia’s four Super Rugby sides are simply not up to the same standard as the Kiwi teams. That’s due to a number of factors, of course, but any real rivalry between the two nations has gone out the window in recent years. Add in the Western Force, who will likely end up bottom of the Super Rugby AU log, and the thought of all five of Australia’s sides joining a trans-Tasman competition with New Zealand is simply laughable.
As Kiwi scribe Dylan Cleaver accurately said not too long ago, following two weeks of intense Super Rugby Aotearoa derbies, “Nobody watching this past fortnight said: ‘It would be great if the Waratahs were up next.’”
These guys have their ambitions well thought out and we can only wish them well? https://t.co/lJvsG6MNzh
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 10, 2020
While it’s hard to know for sure what’s fact and what’s speculation, Newshub have reported that New Zealand Rugby are weighing up two possible options for a future international club competition.
The first option – which Australia are in favour of – would see the five NZ sides and the five Australian sides battle it out in a 10-team competition.
The second option would see Australia field just two teams, alongside the five Kiwi teams and one Pacific Island franchise.
That second option, supposedly favoured by half the NZR board (although chief executive Mark Robinson has denied that the board has even seen the options presented to them yet), would be a huge kick in the teeth to Rugby Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald has suggested that Australia would prefer to go it alone than enter into an arrangement with their neighbours that limits them to just two teams. If nothing changes, however, then it’s hard to justify Australia having any greater presence.
As it stands, the NZ sides are much stronger than their rivals and, bar the odd upset, there’s little for Kiwi fans to get excited about when their teams play against the Reds or Rebels.
Super Rugby Aotearoa is a premium product due to the parity across the playing field. The Chiefs, who belted the Waratahs 51-14 in New South Wales earlier this year, are on the bottom of the table but have lost their four matches to date by just 1, 12, 5 and 7 points. Those kinds of margins would be few and far between if Australia were taking part in the competition.
That’s not to say that a trans-Tasman tournament with five Australian teams isn’t possible – but not if their only competition would be the current five New Zealand sides.
Perhaps if NZR were willing to select All Blacks as long as they were playing in the new competition, regardless of what nation they were based in, then we could see some top talent head to Australia to help prop up the teams.
While it would be an insult to all the players, coaches and support staff in the Blues camp to suggest that Beauden Barrett’s presence has taken them from pretenders to contenders, there’s no question that a player of Barrett’s standing will help elevate a team’s performance. Imagine what the mana of someone like Ardie Savea or David Havili could bring to the Western Force if they were able to lure the All Blacks to Australia.
Of course, that would only be possible with a massive injection of funds into the clubs from private investors. Even without flush funds, some younger, less experienced Kiwis could help prop up Australian squads instead of holding tackle pads at training in New Zealand.
That would at least strengthen the Australian sides and while players of Savea’s calibre are obviously not immediately replaceable, the New Zealand conveyor belt of talent will continue to churn out young players that can eventually fill the void, as it has always done in the past.
The alternative option would be to thin New Zealand’s talent by introducing more Kiwi teams. Five Australian teams certainly can’t compete with five Kiwi ones – but perhaps the competition would be more even if NZ spread their players amongst six, seven or eight sides instead of just five.
Rugby Australia will trumpet a new golden era for the nation because of the promise that their age-grade sides have shown in recent times but New Zealanders won’t be willing to put up with three or four more years of mediocre (at best) competition.
While just two Australian teams participating in a new competition seems like a low blow, it’s what the nation currently deserves. Unless something else major changes, it’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario where all five sides join NZ’s five teams in a 10-team competition.
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