Category Archives: Rugby Australia

Rugby in the Regions

Having returned from just over a month in North Queensland, I am buoyed by the fact that the boutique sport of rugby union in Australia is growing healthily in the regional areas of Queensland. Despite not being able to watch my beloved Queensland Reds play Super Rugby on one of Townsville’s The Ville Casino’s numerous television screens, I did encounter plenty of diehard rugby people in FNQ, none more so than my mate Severin “Bunny” Andreassen from Brothers Cairns, now the President of Brothers Juniors in Townsville. His son Jack is a rugby development officer for Townsville and District Rugby Union (TDRU) and shows a passion for the game like his father. I watched him play a spirited match for Brothers’ 1st Grade side against a strong Teachers-West at Mike Carney Toyota Park (above, where I had played myself for a Brisbane Colts v North Queensland side, back in the day).

The Ville
The Ville Casino, Townsville

Club rugby in Townsville has this year seen the merger of Western Districts with James Cook University (JCU) which Wests President, Athol Giddens, told me was a much needed shot in the arm for both clubs -especially since JCU had recently started a rugby league team. The 2019 amalgamation has provided a junior club for JCU to develop players from and proper training facilities, with lighting –far superior to Wests‘ previous locations, I was told. I watched them going through their paces at the university under the guidance of Kiwi ex-pat, Campbell Yates, whom Giddens would like to have several of. “The main issue is finding quality coaches and getting them accredited with Level 1 and 2 coaching certificates from the QRU,” Giddens said.Western Suburbs Townsville

The tyranny of distance is always an issue in the bush. However, they are rugged people up north and travelling over an hour one way for a Saturday fixture is not unheard of. Charters Towers is over an hour and a half away and they are in the Townsville competition, along with Burdekin and Ingham. Brothers Townsville are traditionally the stronghold, though lately Teachers-West has built up their ranks and have two quality backs in Curtis Rayment and Josh Fletcher. Both these local boys orchestrated Teachers’ 54-0 win over a young Brothers side, in a match where plenty of passion was on display.

During my time in Townsville, I also met Brolgas stalwart coach, John Rauch, for many lunchtime conversations at the school we were both teaching at. Originally from New South Wales, he has taken a passionate interest in the rugby scene in North Queensland over the past 30 odd years, playing for Brothers Townsville before being involved in coaching. Every two years, around Easter, Rauch takes a representative side from Townsville, under the Brolgas banner, to Japan to play select schools over there. Later this year, he will take a team from The Cathedral School to Europe for rugby union matches -another bi-annual trip he organises at his school.

The Cathedral School
The Cathedral School is a 100-year-old co-ed boarding school in Townsville.

Last week, the Queensland Junior State Championships were held at Downlands College in Toowoomba. It was great to see representative teams from all over the State, including the Brolgas from Townsville. One of my students who I had seen play in Townsville made the U13 Brolgas side which I was pretty chuffed about. Next month we see Townsville host the annual Queensland School Sport (QSS) 11-12 years rugby union championship, which bodes well for the future of our code. In a rugby league stronghold, ‘the game they play in heaven’ is in good hands.

Cowboy supporters at Dairy Farmers
The NRL Cowboys are a big deal in North Queensland

 

The irony of Folau’s actions

The audacity of Israel Folau to launch a ‘Go fund me’ page in an effort to raise $3 million to fund his legal battle against Rugby Australia is bewildering, to say the least. Let’s not forget that it was Israel Folau who made a Homophobic Social Media post which led to Folau’s sacking by Rugby Australia. Whether Rugby Australia was justified in sacking Folau or not will now be decided in the Courts, but for Folau in effect to ask the Public to fund his Legal case is a sad indictment of where Folau is now at and the poor advice that he is receiving. It would appear that Folau has conveniently forgotten what he wrote last year when he stated that if he was “hurting Rugby Australia, it’s sponsors and the Australian Rugby Community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through – I would walk away from My contract, immediately” (Players Voice, 2018).
Some former Wallabies greats Mark Gerrard and Drew Mitchell, in particular, have come out and slammed Folau for his plea for fans to fund his Legal action to the extent that Mitchell posted the following on Twitter.
“YOU are in a fight that YOU chose to be in after YOU broke the terms of YOUR contract, the kids below are in a fight they NEVER wanted to be in & yet YOU think YOU deserve donations more than they do?!!”
Mitchell was referring to a ‘Go Fund Me’ page set up to help a child with ‘Neuroblastoma’.

 

Folau has now caused a deep divide in the Australian Rugby Community and hurts a lot of people across all walks of Life, the questions that have to be asked are, was it all worth it and is Israel Folau his own Man, or is he being driven and guided by his Father?

GJ

Staff writer

Junior Wallabies Win the Spoils Ahead of the U20 Championships In Argentina

Last Saturday, Australia’s generation next stepped up to the plate to defeat the All Blacks U20s for the first time in the Oceania Rugby U20s Championships at Bond University on the Gold Coast. The four nation comp, including Fiji and Japan, that played their final match at 5pm, was a great success. In front of a strong crowd of 2,136 people, a changing of the guard, so to speak, was on display as the Junior Wallabies, coached by Jason Gilmore, kept their Kiwi counterparts scoreless with a 24-0 victory. Such luminaries as World Rugby CEO, Brett Gosper, and Gold Coast Mayor, Tom Tate, were on hand to witness the spectacle.

Led by captain Fraser McReight from the Brothers club in Brisbane and a Reds contracted player, the Junior Wallabies worked hard to keep the Kiwis scoreless, going to the sheds after the first 40 minutes up 12-0 from four penalty kicks by Randwick No. 10, Will Harrison. Two tries in the second half, including a spectacular cross kick to Junior Wallaby winger Triston Reilly to score and captain courageous, Fraser McReight crashing over in the 71st minute sealed the 24-0 victory ahead of the U20s World Championships in Argentina next month, June 4th~22nd.

Junior Wallabies Captain, Fraser McReight crashes over. Photo courtesy of Oceania Rugby

“I don’t think an Under 20s side has ever done that (win against New Zealand) in a very long time and we can take confidence in that, and that’s so unreal and I can’t wait for the future, and I can’t wait to win that Junior Rugby World Cup .”

Junior Wallabies captain, Fraser McReight

Such a great tournament run by Oceania Rugby and Rugby Australia and hosted by the magnificent facilities at Bond University. Real credit to Director of Rugby at Bond, Luca Luisse, and his team for once again providing such great support which hopefully bodes well for the continuation of this tournament. World Rugby boss Brett Gosper was particularly impressed by the facilities Bond University has to offer.

“The facilities here at Bond (University) are really first class.

Wonderful grounds, what a beautiful setting for a rugby game like this.”

Brett Gosper, World Rugby CEO.

The Japanese side captained by Shota Fukui, who also scored the first try in the 6th minute, put up a strong showing to hold the Fijians to the narrowest of leads, 28-27, by the halftime mark. As the second half began, a penalty kick by mercurial fly-half, Rintaro Maruyama, saw the young Brave Blossoms ahead 30-28. Then the Fijians ran ahead, initially breaking the deficit in the 51st minute through their speedy fullback, Ratu Osea Waqaninavatu, to make the score 35-30, then a further four more tries to win 59-37 after one of Japan’s best on the field player, industrious No. 8 Takamasa Muruo, scored his third try of the match in the 73rd minute. Gosper and myself were impressed by the tenacity of the relatively smaller Japanese side’s awesome tackling display against the larger South Pacific Islanders. It was great to see Japan back in this tournament, after a hiatus since 2015; hopefully, they are a part of the setup next year (provided Bond University is once again granted hosting status from Oceania Rugby).

Junior Japan’s Head Coach Yoshitake Mizuma said ahead of this year’s Championship that it is a privilege to be able to compete with the world’s best teams in this age-grade.

We hope that our boys take advantage of this occasion to foster camaraderie through rugby, interact with many local people and learn about each other’s culture so as to grow as a person,” Mizuma added

CJ with Japanese U20 Captain, Shota Fukui. Photo by David Kapernick @brisbanerugby.com

Final Day of the U20s Oceania Championships: Japan v Fiji

On only the fourth day of the new Japanese “Reiwa” Era the U20s final day was upon us. In slight overcast conditions the Japanese took on Fiji at 5pm. Perched up in the Bond University stands with World Rugby CEO, Brett Gosper, we were treated to a fast entertaining match to open the final day of proceedings of the 8-day Oceania Rugby U20’s Championships on the Gold Coast. Despite a distinct size difference, the Japanese were tenacious matching the Fijians to hold them to a one-point lead, 28-27, by the halftime hooter, with their scrum a dominant feature of the half. This scrum ascendancy wreaked havoc shortly into the second stanza garnishing an early penalty for Japan to re-take the lead, 30-28, before eventually succumbing to the South-Pacific Islanders to go down 59-37 by the end of the 80 minutes in a high scoring encounter.

The strong crowd of 2000+ were spellbound by the pace of the first match of the evening with the Japanese captain, Shota Fukui, showing why he is a part of the Robbie Deans coached Panasonic Wild Knights by scoring in the 6th minute off a line-out drive 5 meters out, and mercurial fly-half Rintaro Maruyama’s conversion had the men in red & white taking the early lead 7-0 over their more fancied Pacific Island counterparts. Not to be outdone, two minutes later smart Fijian halfback, Josh Akariva Isaiah Vutu, was in under the posts after taking a quick penalty tap to equalise the score at 7-all. By the 13th minute Fiji was in again with inside-centre, Ilaisa Droasese, stepping through the bamboozled Japanese back-line to cross the paint putting Fiji ahead, for the first time in the match, 14-7. However, the dominate Japanese scrum forced a pushover try to impressive Japanese No. 8, Takamasa Maruo, and this dominance continued for ever present Captain Fukui to bag a double to see the Rising Sun team back in the lead, 19-14, halfway through the first stanza. Two tries to Fiji flanker, Vilive Miramira, which were both converted put them in a commanding position at 28-19; not before Maruo made a break off a Fijian mistake on attack from his own side of halfway and showing a clean pair of heels, raced 60 meters for his double on the stroke of halftime to take his team to the sheds down only 28-27.

Only a few minutes into the second half, the Japanese scrum ascendancy forced Fiji to transgress on their feed as the No. 8, Aminaisi Tiritabua Shaw, was stood up, allowing Japan’s No. 10, Maruyama, to slot the penalty goal from 35 meters out to put Japan ahead 30-28. Despite the fearless Japanese defence and their scrum superiority, the Fijians ran in four unanswered tries, firstly through speedy fullback Ratu Osea Waqaninavatu in the 51st minute followed by both wingers, including a double to Osea Joji Natoga, to stamp their mark on the match going ahead 52-30 with only 10 minutes left on the clock. Japan’s industrious No. 8, Maruo, was not finished troubling the scorers with his hat-trick try from a quick thinking tap in the 73rd minute, combined with Maruyama’s successful conversion the score read 52-37. The coup de grâce came two minutes later with replacement Fijian hooker, Lino Mairara Vasuinadi, powering over. Final score 59-37. A very high scoring and exhilarating display that bodes well for the World Rugby U20 Championships in Argentina next month, June 4th~22nd.

“It feels really good. We came out a bit slow today, but then eventually we overcame (this) and we did the little things right. And the scoreboard tells it all.”


Fiji Captain, Tevita Ikanivere, after the match.

Japan U20s captain, Shota Fukui, was obviously upset by the valiant effort shown by his team and said, “I’m disappointed (of the loss), due to all the support we are receiving from people back in Japan.”

2019 Oceania Rugby U20s Championship at Bond Uni

Once again Bond University plays host to the Oceania Rugby U20s Championship with four nations represented this year: alongside Australia is New Zealand, Fiji and Japan returns replacing Tonga after non-attendance since 2015. This Championship has been held on the Gold Coast since 2015 and Oceania Rugby’s Competition Manager, Wayne Schuster said, “The Oceania Rugby U20s Championship serves to provide our premier U20s teams in the region the best preparation possible ahead of the World Rugby U20s Championship each year.”

Last Friday saw there first round take place with the Junior All Blacks 53-7 victors over Fiji and the Junior Wallabies 64-14 defeating a spirited Japanese outfit lead by Shota Fukui. Matches continue at Bond University for Round 2 on Tuesday April 30th. New Zealand take on Japan at 3pm with Australia against Fiji at 5pm. Saturday the action continues with Round 3: Japan v Fiji at 5pm and the Junior Wallabies v New Zealand at 7pm. Entry $5 Children under 12 free.

The World Rugby U20s Championship will be held in Argentina from June 4th~22nd, 2019.

CJ caught up with Japan U20s Captain Shota Fukui, who plays under Robbie Deans at Panasonic.

CJ

Fairwell to Folau

Sayonara and thanks for the memories.

In the past week there has been a tsunami of commentary about one particular player of the Qantas Wallabies team that has been quite outstanding. Never before, in rugby, have we seen the plethora of correspondence across social media from all corners of the globe. If Israel Folau was seeking attention, he certainly achieved that.

Spending a rare week-off during the Super Rugby season with his wife, Maria Folau, in New Zealand, and just like the break in April last year when he posted homophobic comments to Instagram and Twitter where he was ‘lightly’ reprimanded, Folau has repeated this indiscretion.

Almost 39,000 people have liked the post including prominent Wallaby teammates, Samu Kerevi and Allan Alaalatoa, All Blacks flanker, Vaea Fifita, English rugby No. 8, Billy Vunipola, and AFL great Gary Ablett amongst others.

For those who say the tweet was harmless, should now begin to understand the gravitas of the medium used. How many countless young South Pacific Islanders that absolutely worship Israel Folau, that are questioning there own sexuality, will respond to this latest declaration?

The Integrity Unit of Rugby Australia has concluded, “That Folau has committed a high-level breach of the Professional Players Code of Conduct warranting termination of his employment.”

In the statement yesterday, Folau has been given 48 hours to respond to the sanction or the matter will be referred to a Code of Conduct hearing.

Rugby Australia Chief Executive, Raelene Castle, said, “At it’s core, this is an issue of the responsibilities an employee owes to their employer and commitments they make to their employer to abide by their employer’s policies and procedures and adhere to their employer’s values.

Following the events of last year, Israel was warned formally and repeatedly about the expectations of him as a player for the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs with regards to social media use and he has failed to meet those obligations. It was made clear to him that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.

Wallabies coach, Michael Chieka, has confirmed on Monday that he won’t pick Israel Folau again. He said, “We’ve had the discussion about it after the last time about his right to believe and our support in that…but getting out in that disrespectful manner publicly, is not what this team is about.”

We’ve had the discussion about it and the lines been crossed.

When you play in the gold jersey, we’re representing everyone in Australia -everyone that’s out there supporting us. We don’t pick and choose.

Chieka was adamant on the importance of the team but also added, “Everybody has the right to believe (in what they want) and we respect that right. We’re not moral judges and no one should be“.

The Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Folau on Sunday after church in western Sydney where he said he was being persecuted for his faith.

First and foremost, I live for God now,” Folau said. “Whatever He wants me to do, I believe His plans for me are better than whatever I can think.

If that’s not to continue on playing, so be it. In saying that, obviously I love playing footy and if it goes down that path I’ll definitely miss it. But my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first.

Exactly twelve months ago, Israel Folau contributed an article to the PlayersVoice where he articulated his position after his initial foray into social media condemning homosexuals to hell.

People’s lives are not for me to judge. Only God can do that.”

So in the end, the boy from Minto, NSW, who played rugby league at Marsden State High School in Brisbane, will not be on the plane to Japan for the Rugby World Cup in September. A dual international for rugby league and union with a flutter at AFL in the middle will not been seen on a professional rugby field in this country wearing our National or Waratah colours.

Once again I would like to thank you for the pleasure of watching your athleticism on the field since you ran out as a young 17 year old for the Melbourne Storm in the NRL in 2007, your rugby league contributions to the Queensland State of Origin side & the Kangaroos; and especially your 62 test matches for the Wallabies. You have your convictions to the Christian faith, of which I respect, and you stand by that. You appear comfortable in your demeanor with peace in your heart.

Wishing you the best for your life in the future

CJ

Before the Sun Sets on the Sunwolves

Last year in Tokyo the Sunwolves set ChiChiBu-no-Miya Stadium alight with their sublime 63-28 demolition of the lackluster Queensland Reds. In March, at the same stadium in Tokyo, in front of a boisterous crowd, a repeat was on the cards until the Reds scored to level at 31-all near the end and Hamish Stewart manged a penalty goal after full-time to get the Reds out of jail with their first win of the season 34-31.

The Sunwolves are hunting in a pack. Photo courtesy of Getty Sports

Two weeks ago they defeated the NSW Waratahs 31-29 in a Friday match at Newcastle Stadium. In March they had beaten the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton, New Zealand, 30-15, for their first away win. Unfortunately, SANZAAR later decided, with the JFRU withdrawing their support, that the team will be cut from Super Rugby after the completion of the 2020 media contract. With the Top League overlapping the Super Rugby season next year, the Sunwolves won’t be as strong as they are displaying this year; more reason to attend.

CJ and Brad Thorn might have a side bet on the result.. Photo courtesy of @brisbanerugby on Instagram

Find the event at Brisbanerugby.com on Facebook and show your interest by giving me an indication of how many tickets you would like at a reduced price. Payment can be made up until the day before the event through the Commonwealth Bank, Australia account Brisbanerugby BSB: 064-128. Account Number: 10373547.

See you there

CJ

The Greatest Day of My Life

CJ @ Rugby Australia
CJ at Rugby Australia with Mr Shinohara and the RWC2019 Fukuoka Committee

Last week I went to Sydney as a little-known rugby scribe from Brisbane and came back with the greatest rugby experience that I ever thought possible. I flew down on Wednesday in preparation for my meeting with Mr Shinohara of the RWC2019 Fukuoka Committee and from past experience (namely in 2014) I did not rush or make any bad choices. I was met in the CBD by my best mate and we discussed what strategy I should take for Thursday’s afternoon meeting at the Travelodge Wynyard.

Another rugby buddy from Shenzhen offered me a place to stay at Five Dock, provided I make my way there by public transport. So, armed with an Opal Card I preceded to navigate the city’s transport bus network and arrived at the address in Five Dock just as my friend’s Chinese meeting was finishing. We then regaled stories of playing rugby for the Shenzhen Dragons, particularly the Xiamen trip in 2012, while drinking some King Horse red, sourced from the best grapes in Australia and bottled in the Hunter Valley, and the most fragrant Baijo I have ever tried.

Understandably, I awoke Thursday morning a little groggy, however, knowing the 11am meeting had been pushed back to 1.30pm, I knew I would be right. A walk along the bay to the dog park cleared my head in the crisp morning air and was back for a shower and a fully catered breakfast at the $3 million mansion, known as King Horse Club.

King Horse Club
The mansion at Five Dock

Just before 1pm, my Chinese/Australian buddy drove me into the Travelodge in his 2014 C-class Mercedes for the in-house meeting with Mr Shinohara and two other members of the RWC2019 Fukuoka Committee. Having spoken to Mr Shinohara on the phone, I recognised him straight away in the lobby. The four of us preceded to the hotel restaurant and over the course of three hours, we aligned ourselves with what tactics we should employ to promote World Cup Host City Fukuoka’s tourist aspects for the influx of Australians visiting for the World Cup. This was a day of accomplishment after two months of emails and a single meeting in Brisbane with Mr Yamaki from the Hong Kong office of Fukuoka Prefecture. However, my greatest day was yet to come, because on Friday I met with the Anthony French and Peter Murphy in the boardroom of Rugby Australia at their impressive new facility. The discussions were private, suffice to say the Wallabies doing their best at the World Cup was paramount.

Outside I caught a taxi to Central Station and made my way to Brighten-le-Sands to meet the most knowledgeable man on scrummaging on the planet, Enrique “Topo” Rodriguez.

CJ & Topo, lunch
CJ with Dr Scrum at Le Sands Restaurant

Topo is the only rugby player to have represented three nations, Argentina 13 caps, Australia 26 caps and 1 test for Tahiti in rugby union. He also played for the Barbarians Club against Scotland in 1991 after he had retired from international rugby with a test match, ironically against Argentina in Buenos Aires on November 7th, 1987. Most known for his scrummaging as a prop, both loose-head and tight-head, his 178cm 110kg frame he has also played hooker. As a young fledgeling hooker, I had always looked to him as an inspiration so you can understand my delight when he phoned me the week before to meet for lunch. Initially, we were going to meet at St George’s Leagues Club close to his Kogarah home, however, due to the possibility of me to help to facilitate a scrum academy in Japan, he decided to switch venues to the more salubrious, Le Sands Restaurant, looking out over the beach of Botany Bay.

An idea he has had since 1988, is developing scrum academies around the world in places such as Argentina, Italy and France. With my appointment as an advisor to the RWC2019 Fukuoka Committee and my status as a Client Manager to Japan, the inclusion of Japan whetted his appetite. The conversation flowed and I began taking copious notes on the back of the menu, then graduating to the paper tablecloth. Topo also joined in writing on the table cover and forthwith grabbed the paper when we left to destroy the evidence.

When I returned to my friend’s apartment in Kogarah, I was high as a kite, having experienced a day that can be only described as euphoric, the greatest day of my life.

NB. Certain names will remain anonymous to protect the guilty.

CJ

 

 

Premier Rugby Still Showing Local Support for Our Game

Bathed in beautiful winter sun in the western suburbs of Brisbane at Yoku Road, top of the table clash in the Hospital Challenge Cup between GPS and Souths took place last Saturday. Ladies Day at the Ashgrove Sports Ground meant for a healthy spectator turnout, 3000+, with plenty of Reds contracted players for both teams turning out for a great afternoon of local club rugby. A pity Raelene Castle was not present to witness grassroots rugby, the bloodline for Super Rugby and the Wallabies, at its raw best. The Honorable Member for Ashgrove, Education & Tourism Minister Kate Jones, was out there enjoying champagne in the Ladies Tent and was not averse to mingling with the strong crowd from both teams during the match.

Kate Jones Ashgrove
Honourable Member for Ashgrove, Kate Jones. Photo courtesy of The Courier Mail.

After the 3.20pm kickoff, both teams went at each other hammer and tong ensuring running rugby was the game we had come to watch. Recalcitrant Reds prop JP Smith led the charge resulting in a penalty try to Jeeps within the first 10 minutes after Souths tight-head prop, Jake Simeon, was yellow-carded for collapsing. The Magpies were not disheartened with a pep talk from the sideline from injured fly-half, Quade Cooper, inspiring the men in black to run in three expansive tries to lead 19-7. But the Ashgrove lads regrouped under Man of the Match half-back, Jordan Lenac, and equalled the score by the half-time break 19-all.

Everyone was braced for the second half as the last rays of sunlight slipped behind the western hills and the grounds lighting was turned on. What ensued was fast-paced attacking rugby with neither side letting up until GPS scored two tries to lead 26-19 with 20 minutes to go. Souths were valiant in their reply with Eto Nabuli running in out-wide after the sustained attack on the left flank. With No. 1 supporter Quade Cooper, now positioned behind Souths goalposts giving constant encouragement to his teammates, the Magpies threw everything at the Galloping Greens, but they never gave up and managed to register Souths first loss of the season. The loss was not enough to dislodge Southern Districts from the top of the Hospital Challenge Cup table on 23 points, but the students at Queensland Uni delivered a mighty 45-29 victory over Western Districts, despite the strong showing from Scott Higginbotham, to leap ahead of GPS with a bonus point to go clear in second place on 20 points. Eastern Districts and GPS on 19 points round out the top four.

Scotty Higgenbothem Wests
Scott Higgenbotham playing for Wests. Photo courtesy of Premier Rugby

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”.