Category Archives: Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship

May the Fourth Be With You

Last Friday, May 4th, 2018, an ambitious and bold move by Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest to breath life back into the Western Force rugby union side that was last year unceremoniously axed from Super Rugby. Amongst the fireworks, skydivers and an aboriginal performance, Nib Stadium, packed with 19,466 diehard locals, once again witnessed high-quality provincial rugby in Perth. The largest crowd in Australia for provincial rugby for quite some time witnessed Western Force 2.0 defeat a fast-paced Fiji Warriors outfit 24-14 in the first of seven “exhibition” matches in the genesis of World Series Rugby. Just like the Star Wars prequels, re-envigorating rugby union in this country is something the Force may be with you. Rugby Australia and World Rugby have initially given Forrest the green light with his vision and will be waiting with baited breath to see if this venture can bring life back to a code losing relevance in the plethora of winter sports in this country biting off ever bigger chunks of the finite pie of attracting an ever decerning public.

First try in World series Rugby
Marcel Brache scores for the Western Force during the opening match of World Series Rugby against Fiji Warriors at Perth’s nib Stadium. Picture: AAP

The fact that Twiggy Forrest’s name was plastered all over the event with constant references to him over the stadium’s public address system certainly did not warrant a torrent of social media protests after the event. If it was not for Forrest, top class provincial rugby would be anathema to the Western Australia public and the aspirations for young rugby players of a pathway to the Wallabies, in the West, would be cut off. That the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) under CEO Gary Flowers had the foresight to award the fourth Super Rugby franchise to Perth ahead of Melbourne in 2004 was visionary for building the game there. They cited “people power” as the deciding factor and that grew to the ‘Sea of Blue’ eclipsing the fan base of the other Australian Super Rugby franchises.

Bankwest-backs-the-Force
Twiggy Forrest with Bankwest Managing Director Rowan Munchenberg and Captain Ian Prior. Photo courtesy of Western Force

I hope Raelene Castle is taking note of “people power” in the West for a code that has over 120 years of history with RugbyWA being founded in 1893. That masterstroke by the ARU to award Perth the fourth franchise in 2004 and in one stroke could taketh away in 2017 shows destain for what had been created over 12 years. If the blueprint by Forrest to harness that “people power” in the West and fund expansion of the game into the Asia-Pacific region can only be a healthy option for the code. To fund teams from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga is really appealing after the pillaging that has gone on for rugby talent from predominately New Zealand and Australia to other nations around the rugby globe. Not even Rupert Murdoch has been game to enter the Pasifika market an obviously rugby-mad region due to a lack of financial gain.

Raelene Castle Gilbert
Rugby Australia CEO, Raelene Castle. Photo courtesy of AAP

To have a stronger rugby footprint in the economic powerhouse that is Asia leading up to next year’s World Cup in Japan (with matches played in Hong Kong and Singapore) is whetting interest by World Rugby. To be able to market the sport which was warmly embraced last week by Singapore in the recent HSBC World Sevens Series tournament there and obviously Hong Kong is a hotbed of rugby interest, especially the last weekend of March (now the first weekend in April), for over 30 years. And Japan has a very fervent schoolboy and university participation rate and company teams with open chequebooks.

This is an exciting time for rugby union and Twiggy’s vision could go down as a watershed in the annals of a code desperate to maintain relevance in a saturated sporting landscape that is Australia. Rugby Australia should become more involved in what is happening in the West, especially if reports out of South Africa that they want to pull out of Super Rugby are true. New Zealand will support anything rugby in the region so I have no fear that we will lose our cross Tasman rivalry. It is only onwards and upwards and as they say in the West, “May the Western Force be with you”.

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What’s Happened to Rugby in Australia?

“Out of adversity comes opportunity.”

 

Benjamin Franklin

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!”

Twiggy’s bold plan.

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.