“Out of adversity comes opportunity.”
In what could only be described as annus horribilis for rugby union in Australia, 2017 will be left to historians to rake over the coals of a year that no Australian Super Rugby franchise could defeat any New Zealand rival. And that is the benchmark of rugby union here, to beat those pesky Kiwis across the ditch. The Wallabies lost to Scotland in June and were under the pump against the Auzzurri of Italy a week later. Not to mention the drubbing by New Zealand in Sydney in the first Bledisloe clash with 50 minutes of scintillating rugby from the World Champions to go to an unassailable 56-6 lead. The debacle of the way the ARU drew out the axing of the Western Force franchise showed such disdain that rugby has all but been obliterated from the Australian sporting landscape in 2017.
But for an unlikely source in Western Australia, larrikin billionaire mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, fuel has been thrown on the smouldering remains of the code by the announcement of the Indo-Pacific Rugby Championships (IPRC). Drawing on rugby aficionados from Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Fiji a six-team competition will begin in August 2018. Ideally it will be fully sanctioned by the ARU to allow another avenue for Wallaby selection, but as Twiggy says, “They’re not quite running at the same speed as we do!”
Leading up to the first Rugby World Cup in Asia, hosted by Japan in 2019, this competition could capitalise on the hype developing in the region. There would need to be marque players, the likes of former Reds flanker Liam Gill have been mentioned, to attract more attention and add to the interest in this competition. If successful, there could be a relegation system with Super Rugby franchises in the current Super 15 format.
It could be a case of putting the cart ahead of the horse, but if such a competition could come off there is the potential for it to make a mark on the sporting landscape. Being able to financially compete with cashed up European and Japanese clubs could see the IPRC making a real identity for itself and it would of course seek endorsement from World Rugby.
I, for one, am hoping such a visionary concept could come off. The promotion of rugby in the fastest growing economies of the world is the real key for an international product that has huge growth potential with the upcoming World Cup 2019 in Japan.