“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!”
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 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.
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.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. ”
© September, 1942
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”.
The French number 10, Fredric Michalak!
To be continued…
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.
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CJ & Will Genia @ Ballymore