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 Adam 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.
The farcical Super 18 Rugby Competition has reached an all time low with the two protagonists now decided for the Super 18 Final, the Lions and the Crusaders.
What doesn’t sit right at all here and the fact that the whole Super 18 Competition is totally flawed is that the Lions never had to play any of the New Zealand teams thereby giving them a huge and unfair advantage.
Could somebody please explain to me how the current format of the S18 Competition can be deemed as a level playing field when the Jaguares, Kings, Lions or Sharks didn’t have to play any of the N Z teams through 17 Rounds of the S18 season?and how a Team which has played in a far inferior Conference (just take a look at the final standings on the table at the completion of the S18 Season) should be allowed to have a Home Quarter Final, Semi Final and Final?
For the Crusaders to now have to travel 11,500 kilometres to Johannesburg to play the Super 18 Final at High Altitude because they finished on equal points with the Lions (65) after the Home and away Season, even though they played in a far Superior Conference, but had only 7 bonus points compared to the Lions who had 9 seems like a travesty of Justice.
It’s little wonder then that the Credibility and Integrity of the Super 18 Rugby Competition has been brought in to question for a while now.
As a proud and passionate All Blacks supporter I hope that the Crusaders can draw on all of their resolve, self belief , superb skills, athleticism and will to win to defeat the Lions, if they do it will be a truly remarkable and memorable achievement with the odds stacked heavily against them.
Until SANZAR changes the current format of the S18 Competition and has every team play each other at least once through the Home and away Season then the Integrity and merit of the Super 18 Winner will continue to be brought in to question.
The Reds Super 18 season is pretty much done and dusted, however moving forward tomorrow’s match in Christchurch is a chance to erase the thrashing they received there last year. As I stated earlier in the season, this side has the cattle, just lacking a lead drover.
With Richard Graham’s instant dismissal after the Queenslanders suffered a disastrous start to the 2016 season with two heavy losses from two matches; Ballymore’s swift action has reignighted the Reds’ players passion. The two head coach policy of Nick Styles and Matt O’Conner has been rewarded with success on the scoreboard and wins under their belt. Two matches that they should have won were the draw against the Auckland Blues and loss against the NSW Waratahs, both at Suncorp. The Blues match was in the bag with five minutes to go when the Reds replaced Andrew Ready to win greater dominance at scrum time, which they did resulting in a penalty. The kick for touch and resulting line-out was the correct option, but the poor throw into the line-out resulted in the Aucklanders’ turnover to rampage back into the match. Blues Head Coach, Tana Umanga, complained after the match that a poor refereeing decision by Andrew Lees to not allow advantage, that ended up with a try being scored under the posts. Later analysis showed a clear knock on by a Kiwi player.
Those two losses should have gone down as wins in the log and positive results are what the Reds fans deserve. They will desert the drowning ship in droves if massive losses become the norm, once again. Jake McIntyre & Sam Greene will be great Reds players of the future, but what is needed is a senior No. 10 to come in and motivate what is already the crystallisation of a winning Super Rugby franchise. My suggestion two years ago was to bring Frederic Michalak in, Tony Shaw thought it a great opportunity moving forward, but Sam Cordingly refused the opportunity. Now Freddy has contacted me and wants a second crack, especially if John Mulvihill is appointed head coach.
The eighth instalment of the Rugby World Cup Pool stage has been completed with the usual suspects of teams from the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship making up the final eight teams. Hosts England are the notable exception, but there was always going to be a top tier team being knocked out in the so called, “Pool of death”, Pool A. The real highlight of the Pool stage was the 34-32 upset by Japan over South Africa in the first week. Possibly the most improved team of the tournament, Japan, were unlucky not to progress to the finals series with only one loss to Scotland in Pool B.
It has been one of the most popular tournaments with most matches played to sellout or near sellout crowds and a national TV record of 25 million achieved in Japan for the Brave Blossoms clash with Samoa, surpassing the French record from 2007 tournament they hosted.. Georgia’s win over Tonga and Romania’s one point, come back, win over Canada are standouts from the lower tier nations and the gap is narrowing, making this the most hotly contested World Cup in history. No longer are the 100 point blowout scores seen as the lower tier nations are really challenging the big guns…
The knockout stage of the 2015 tournament has some real juicy match ups with Ireland pitted against their nemesis Argentina, New Zealand against France at Millenium, South Africa verses Wales and the Wallabies against their bogey team, Scotland, back at Twickenham. It has worked out as a classic Southern Hemisphere verse Norther Hemisphere affair with the respective troublemakers to face each other. Three nations have won two World Cups a piece and of the other five nations, France has made three finals.
The finals series is certain to take the World Cup to another level and it is those hard matches in the Pool stages that really propel teams to achieve their goals in the sudden death knockout part. It will be another weekend of late nights in the Antipodeas with the mouth watering match ups and may the best teams achieve victory.
One of the Reds better performances of the season, with the much anticipated return of Quade Cooper, was not quite enough to secure a win against an impressive Johannesburg Lions side, that have won three from four on their Australasian road trip. Less than 20,000 diehard fans had come out to see the return of some of the missing stars.
After some razzle-dazzle from Cooper in the first half with James O’Conner running off him, the impenetrable Lions defence remained intacked with the Reds trailing 8-3. A miss-throw from replacement hooker Saia Faingaa to James Horwill in the second half gifted the South Africans 7 points, to lead 15-3.
A short time later the reds were back in the contest with a penalty try after Greg Holmes came on and added much needed grunt to the front row to trail 15-0. A neat backline move with James O’Conner standing at first receiver lead to a try by Samu Kerevi which put the Reds in front until Ben Tapuai gave away a penalty in the 72nd minute which Elton Jantjies slotted to put the Lions ahead 18-17. A desperate field-goal attempt by Cooper was charged down right on fulltime to leave the Reds one point behind.
“We’re incredibly disappointed by this result.” Reds coach Richard Graham said after the match. “We put ourselves in a position to win the game. Had we managed the last portion of the game better we could have left here with a win tonight.”
It does not get any easier for the Reds now as they depart on their road trip, first to Melbourne then off to South Africa. They are beginning to show positive signs, but the next few weeks together will see where this team is headed and how secure Graham’s position will be.
As the 27,199 spectators at Suncorp Stadium filed out after another loss to the New South Wales Waratahs, 23-5, questions started to be levelled at Queensland Reds coach Richard Graham. Queenslanders are a pretty passionate lot and to lose so easily to arch rivals the Waratahs, with the 133 year rivalry seeming a pointless advertising gimmick to heighten pre-match anticipation, seems like the players are lacking direction.
Eddie Jones and Phil Mooney were shown the door before Ewen McKenzie arrived as the saviour and turned the Reds fortunes around winning the Inaugural Super 15 Competition in 2011. Since Graham has taken over the Reds have spiralled down to 13th place last year, the position they are currently placed, and with a rampaging Brumbies match next weekend their prospects do not look much better.
QRU chief executive Jim Carmichael and chairman Rod McCall have some serious decisions to make over the next few weeks if they want to maintain their healthy membership base. Despite an horrific amount of injuries (Quade Cooper, Rod Simmons, James Horwill, Beau Robinson, Ed O’Donoghue, Ed Quirk and the suspension of Karmichael Hunt) this season, that are a natural occurrences in professional rugby, the fans expect results.
Graham’s contract runs out at the end of this season and there are number of suitably qualified Australian head coaches plying their trade in Europe and Japan that should be considered. We all want to see a strong Reds side and the buck stops with the coach.
As I board QF 537 at Brisbane Domestic Terminal the Third Test against the French is kicking off at Sydney Football Stadium; where, at the 11th hour, I was granted a coverted media pass to attend the sold out match. Thanks to a man I just happened to run into at the Sofitel in Brisbane two weeks before, Bill Pulver, CEO of Australian Rugby Union (ARU). I had introduced myself as the Editor-at-Large of Brisbanerugby.com and he handed me his business card and said, “Whenever you are in Sydney, give me a call.” Well I wasn’t in Sydney, I was going there, and it was 11:46am in Brisbane.
Now we go back two weeks to June 4th when I just happened to be walking through the Sofitel lobby, because I knew I could get a hit of my latest addiction, free Wi-Fi. Like a junky suffering withdrawal, I took my Galaxy S5 and gingerly searched for the free Sofitel Lobby Wi-Fi. Typed in “accept” and sat back in relief while my emails, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. loaded. I ordered a coffee and looked around at my fellow junkies tapping away at the phones, tablets, laptops etc. with sheer pleasure on their faces, like a heroin attic scoring a hit in Fortitude Valley.
I glanced over to the reception area and noticed a young gentleman that I had never met before, but had first seen on the rugby pitch 11 years ago at Lang Park in the 2003 World Cup. With a sense of disbelief I walked over to the man and introduced myself, to which he replied, “I’m Freddy”.
Yesterday, Bill Pulver, CEO of the ARU, announced that initial discussions with the CEOs of the five Australian Super 15 franchises on SANZARS proposed format for Super 18, coming into effect in 2016, are positive. Greg Growden, from ESPN scrum.com, told me this morning it was “ridiculous”. On Foxtel’s The Rugby Club last night they discussed the concept and I understand Tim Horan’s wish for a South Pacific team to be included, but television rights demand that greater audiences in Asia will benefit from their inclusion. Obviously with the 2019 World Cup in Japan, including matches in Hong Kong & Singapore, a franchise based in Tokyo or Osaka is almost a fait accompli.
With the time zone of Japan only being one hour behind Eastern Standard Time, or an hour ahead of Western Australia, the television audiences in these areas is where the money will be generated for Murdoch & Co. Even if some of those “Asian” matches were played in Hong Kong or Singapore, they would align with the Perth time zone. After all, as Pulver says, the money is in the television rights and the positives he was hinting at was some Super Rugby matches will be shown on free to air channels.