From the inception of the Rugby World Cup in 1987, where Australia and New Zealand hosted the inaugural event, the manifestation of this great tournament has been at the forefront of international attention. None more so than the 1995 tourney in South Africa with the Springboks competing for the first time for Nelson Mandela’s newly minted, Rainbow Nation. Who would forget the galvanising of a population under the same banner through rugby union? It was the inspiration for the book, “Playing the Enemy“, by English journalist, John Carlin, that inspired the 2009 movie, “Invictus” directed by Clint Eastward.
Four years later at RWC 1999, former Wallaby captain and Australian rugby commentator, Andrew Slack, stated ahead of the New Zealand v France semi-final in Twickenham, that he would move to the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa if France won. When the French came from 24-10 down at halftime to upstage the Kiwis 43-31 by the fulltime whistle, Slack was packing his bags. The final that year saw the Wallabies, under John Eales leadership, win their second Webb Ellis Trophy, 35-12 over France.
By 2007, the tournament moved to an exclusively non-English speaking nation France. However, the memorable French 20-18 win over the All Blacks in the quarter-final was in Cardiff, Wales. Incendently, the Argentine Los Pumas affirmed their rugby pedigree defeating the French hosts twice. This time it was the South Africans that clinched their second title, 15-6, over England at Stade de France, Saint-Denis in Paris.
It was the 2011 edition that finally saw the mighty All Blacks overcome 24 years of ridicule and derision to secure their second Webb-Ellis title. In front of 61,079 home fans at the sacred Eden Park, the crucible of rugby in New Zealand, the ABs overcame their nemesis, France, to hold on by the slightest of margins, winning 8-7. Despite the valiant efforts of the French captain, Thierry Dusautoir’s, Man-of-the-Match performance, Les Bleus, couldn’t overcome the Maori challenge.
The Rugby World Cup unites diverse ethnic cultures and languages. It brings the so-called second tier nations to compete against the best teams on the planet in front of huge crowds with a global audience. In RWC 2015 the average attendance across all 48 matches was 95.27%, the most well-patronised event with a total of 2,477,805 in attendance (Wikipedia 2018). The match between Japan and Samoa achieved a television audience record of 25 million in Japan and ITV in the UK recorded 11.6 million viewers for the England v Wales match (RWC site). However, the biggest revelation to come from RWC 2015 was the “Miracle in Brighton“, when the Eddie Jones coached Japan Brave Blossoms defeated the South African Springboks 34-32 after the fulltime siren. This has inspired Australian writer and director, Max Mannix to produce a movie of the lead up to this extraordinary occurrence, with filming commencing on Australia’s Gold Coast this month.
This year the Rugby World Cup carnival, for the first time, moves to Asia and the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan will host the third biggest sporting event on the global stage, with big shoes to fill after the successful UK edition four years hence. Action starts in 8 months with the opening ceremony on September 20th at Ajinomoto Stadium, in Tokyo’s western suburbs, followed by hosts, Japan, taking on Russia through to six weeks of competition culminating with the final at the cavernous 72,327-seat Nissan Stadium in Yokohama.
“Not once every four years. Once in a lifetime!”
Such a bold statement, though justifiably so with the tournament making an initial foray into the Orient, laying testament to the multitude of cultures that make up the rugby family. The Hong Kong Sevens continually draws on this diversity to host the most successful annual 7s rugby pilgrimage there, but for the Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia, this will surely be a once in a lifetime experience.
From the northern ocean roads of 北海道（Hokkaido）to the nine states of 九州（Kyushu）in the south, across 12 stadiums with dedicated host cities, rugby fans will be treated to not only 48 high-quality international rugby matches, but a sensory overload in this ancient country of temples, shrines and castles coupled with exquisite culinary delights presented to the highest caliber. Bring it on!!
In late October I made my way over to the Land of the Rising Sun on a sabbatical to try to really comprehend how rugby is growing in Japan and the fanfare and excitement created around #RWC2019.
My first impressions in Tokyo were that plans were well underway to host the third major global sporting tournament and a buzz was growing amongst the Japanese people. However, I was somewhat delusional inside the bubble of the rugby going public in that first week bookended by the Bledisloe 3 match in Shin-Yokohama on October 27th and the Japanese playing the All Blacks in western Tokyo the week after on November 3. The bubble I refer to was being invited to functions by rugby aficionados in Tokyo from former players of All France, members of the Japanese Rugby Magazine and rugby people at Yokohama Country & Athletic Club.
With my PA, Alisa Okawa, I attended the Third Bledisloe Match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks on Saturday, after arriving the day before, at the cavernous Nissan Stadium in Shin Yokohama. Location of the Football World Cup final in 2002 hosted by Japan and South Korea the 72,327-seat stadium attained a record attendance for an international rugby match in Japan with over 46,000 fans watching the Kiwis defeat the Aussies 37-20. An entertaining match with a strong All Blacks side making a clean sweep of the series against a novice Wallabies outfit that will befit greatly from the exposure a year out from the World Cup. In what could be heralded as a preview to the RWC2019 final, as was the case for the RWC2015 final, these two behemoths of the World Cup era in rugby holding three and two Webb Ellis trophies respectively may not end up the finalists after the annus horribilis the Wallabies have endured in 2018 winning only 3 of 12 tests.
The week that followed was catching up with old rugby mates in Tokyo and discussing proposals with stakeholders that set to benefit from Japan hosting the World Cup. I even managed to pull on the boots to play a rugby match at YC&AC in Yokohama over 20 years since I had last played on that ground in the 1990s. To my surprise, there was a schoolboy/girl tournament going on there sponsored by Aussie Beef. Former Brave Blossoms representative and current Toshiba Brave Limpus stalwart, Hiroshi Ono or Kin-chan as the locals call him, was in attendance to give clout to the event that hosted teams from New Zealand and Australia. Great to see rugby being promoted in this soccer/baseball-mad country. I really hope the Japanese Rugby Football Union (JRFU) can really capitalise on the exposure rugby is getting through the RWC2019. Talking with Kyodo news rugby correspondent, Rich Freeman, after my match, he seemed somewhat pessimistic with the Japanese Top League being abandoned for the 2019-20 season. He also thought they should have lowered the ticket price for the Bledisloe Cup match to try for a sellout crowd after the rugby public had just forked out for World Cup tickets. It will be interesting to see how any benefit can come from hosting this event.
For my second week I made my way up into the mountains of central Japan to Nagano where a good friend of mine, Hide, lives in the City of Ueda. He showed me the rugby town of Sugadaira on the outskirts of Ueda where the high school rugby teams from all over Japan gather in summer to go through their paces. Driving through the town you can’t help but be overawed by everything rugby from the rugby ball monument in the centre of town to the Canterbury store, amongst other rugby brands, scattered throughout. Even the 7/11 store caters for sports supplements not common at other franchise locations in Japan. These highlands are where the Italian rugby union team will be based during the six-week tournament starting in September next year.
Heading back to Tokyo for my final weekend I felt somewhat disheartened by the fact that what I initially thought was an excitement for the RWC2019 was, in fact, more a curiosity as to what it would entail. Overshadowed by the Tokyo2020 Olympics, rugby still as a long way to go to capture the minds and souls of this unique homogeneous society reluctant to cash in on the tourism bonanza this event will bring. A chance to really open up and embrace the outside world could be missed unless something drastic is done. I will offer my services to ensure the success of this event and rugby sevens at the Olympics because there is a true bond of camaraderie born from rugby players and their fans.
On Sunday, fans braved the second half rain at Bond University to watch the National Rugby Championship semi-final between last year’s premiers Queensland Country and the Western Force. The star-studded Country outfit did not fail to impress from the getgo with tries aplenty in the first 20 minutes. None more so than 2018 Reds bolter, 18-year-old Jordan Petaia. Some very impressive running from the young Wallabies squad member playing at outside-centre with two tries in 15 minutes under the watchful eye of Reds coach Brad Thorn, who was standing beside me. From our vantage point, Caleb Timu also ran in for a five-pointer, on the blindside, with the Western Force down to 13 men.
Hamish Stewart did not bring his kicking boots which proved costly in the first half as Qld Country went to the sheds up only 20-14, after Western Force kicker, Ian Prior, converted their first two tries. Stewart did make-up for his earlier failures with the boot in the second half with two conversions and two penalty goals, but leaving points out there was scrutinised by Reds coach Thorn.
In the 53rd minute, referee Damon Murphy called the match off due to the lightning in the area, but after about 15 minutes the play was back on. A few spectators left at this juncture, however, there were plenty that stayed, eager to watch more from the impressive Queensland Country outfit. The final score was 45-24 to the home side, booking them a place in next weeks final in Suva against Fiji Drua.
Queensland Country coach, Rod Seib, said, “I’m really pleased with the team’s performance today. The team delivered.”
Some real standout performances by Caleb Timu and Angus Scott-Young that should see them get a future call-up to the Wallabies.
The last Rugby World Cup of the century began with much fanfare at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff two weeks ago. The top seeds won their pool games quite easily through the second week provided some interesting results.
The first real match-ups of rugby heavyweights took place last weekend with New Zealand verse England and Australia v Ireland.
In the former game, England realised it had to play 15-man rugby to repeat their finals appearance of 1991, but the superiority of the All Blacks came to the fore in Jonah Lomu. As in the 1995 tournament, the 58th minute proved Lomu was back with a trademark 60 metre run through the English backs to break the 16-16 deadlock.
New Zealand scored a further try by in-form halfback replacement Byron Kelleher and took the match 30-16.
In the latter match, the passionate Irish couldn’t back up their rough play with any try-scoring opportunities and the Wallabies went away with two tries to win a scrappy contest 23-3.
Instrumental in the win was mid-field saviour Tim Horan. As he was in the successful 1991 campaign three-Cup veteran Horan is the centre of attack.
I caught up with Tim Horan before he and the team left Australia a few weeks ago on a typical early spring day in Brisbane.
In contrast to the light rain that fell at Lansdowne Road before Sunday’s match, blue sky with the sun shining brightly greeted me as I parked out the front of Tim’s Queenslander house. His daughter directed me to ‘the office’ where the interview was conducted.
It had been about 10 years since we played in the Colts (under 19) “Dream Team” that won the 1988 Grand Final convincingly and just like then he can still carve through backlines as he proved with vintage aplomb on Sunday against the Irish.
The Aussie campaign to “Bring back Bill”, the affectionate name they have given the William Webb Ellis trophy, is underway and November 6, just three weeks off, is looming as a very significant day for a young nation entering the new millennium.
For also on that day a referendum will be carried out in Australia to decide whether to become a republic or hold onto a dying monarchy. The players have already voted and Captain John Eales had one regret that they won’t be playing England on that day.
“It would have been good to play England in the final,” he said. “We could stuff them on the field – and stuff them in the vote.”
I asked Tim his opinion as to Australia winning the 1999 World Cup. He said, “We have a fairly good chance, but Ireland won’t be easy.”
“At the moment we are concentrating mainly on Wales in the quarters”.
He didn’t seem too concerned about Larkham’s injury noting that it was not as bad as the thumb injury he sustained in a Super 12 match where he had to go off at halftime.
His lack of concern proved justified as Larkham had a solid return to test match level rugby last Sunday and again yesterday against the Americans.
‘At the moment we are concentrating on Wales in the quarters’
Australia’s chances of regaining the Webb Ellis trophy are looking pretty good. As Bob Dwyer stated in his 1992 autobiography that the best two prepared teams contested the final in 1991 and should that be the case this time the Wallabies (and the Kiwis) are starting to come good at the right time.
An emphatic win over the Kiwis at Stadium Australia, 34-9, in front of 107,000+ people was a psychological shot in the arm after some lacklustre games preceding it.
“The atmosphere was ecstatic…great for Australian rugby”, Tim said. “Crowd support like that is something we don’t often get in Australia.”
“In New Zealand and South Africa you come to expect to play 16 (including the crowd) but at Stadium Australia it was excellent.”
This game provided the springboard for Australia’s assault at retaining rugby’s Holy Grail, the Webb Ellis trophy.
In a year that has seen our cricketers, hockey and netball players win their respective world championships it would be another piece of silverware on the mantelpiece of a proud young nation.
Australia’s first match of the tournament was against Romania in Belfast. Once again Tim Horan proved too good for the weak defence and scored in less time then it takes to pour a pint of Guinness (119 seconds).
For his effort, sponsors Guinness will donate £10,000 to the charity of his choice (this probably should go to the under-financed Romanian rugby team).
The tournament run by the Five Nations has had its detractors noting the lop-sided results. But as Sydney Morning Herald writer Peter FitzSimons says, “Wouldn’t rugby league love the chance to show it had a similar array of cultures, backgrounds and socio-economic firepower united through a common passion?”
When Australia hosts the next rugby World Cup in 2003 these same arguments will be brought out along with the problems of where each game will be held.
As rugby has become professional the bottom line has been to make as much return from the game as is put in and that means bums on seats.
At the present World Cup, we have seen good numbers at games in England, France and Wales but poor ones for matches in Scotland.
The Scottish Rugby Union is responsible for this balls-up due to their traditional opposition to any innovations or improvements of the game and their initial rejection of having a World Cup when first raised by the IRB.
I remember asking a Scottish friend about tickets for the World Cup early this year and he told me that even the clubs are finding it hard to obtain any – what a travesty that has proven
Fast forward to 2003 where the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) is calling the shots, will the spectators be looked after then?
Will Queensland, a strong backyard for Wallaby talent, be overlooked for the choice matches by Melbourne; or even Perth?
ARU head, John O’Neill has decided not to give Brisbane a Bledisloe Cup match next year opting for Melbourne where rugby is hardly played because they can guarantee numbers through the turnstiles.
However, when I asked Tim about the lack of major test matches in Brisbane he cited that only 34,000 people came to Suncorp Stadium for the Tri-nations match against South Africa in July.
With the present debates over a super-stadium in Brisbane in the professional age of rugby, Queensland may be left out on a limb.
The debacle when Queensland topped the Super 12 and was given a home semi-final over whether to play at Ballymore or Suncorp Stadium meant that those schoolboys who supported the Reds all season weren’t allowed to use their schoolboy passes.
Subsequently, many locals boycotted and a proportionally larger Kiwi contingent turned up to see Canterbury outplay an uninterested Queensland side.
A further point I raised with Tim was that of the end of season Rico Challenge played between Queensland, New South Wales and ACT.
He supported the concept saying it is a good way for fringe players to get a Super 12 contract.
Although spectators to these games are low if marketed properly and positioned better in the rugby calendar, as proposed, we may see this problem overcome.
Finally, I asked Tim of his plans after the World Cup.
“Well I have another year to go on my Super 12 contract, but after that, I’d like to play in Europe”, he said.
“The pressure of Super 12 and test matches are great and I’d like to relax for a while with my family”.
No chance of following in your father’s footsteps and entering politics?
“No way!!!” he replied.
“You could give me a million bucks for a day in politics and I’d say no.
“For all the hard work my father does he doesn’t seem to get any popular response”.
The interview ended at 3pm as Tim apologized that he had to pick up one of the kids from school.
This weekend the final pool matches of the World Cup will be wrapped up with Pool D looking the closest; the clash between France and Fiji to determine the winner of Pool C being unclear; and England against Tonga no certainty.
“You could give me a million bucks for a day in politics and I’d say no.”
New Zealand’s hundred plus points against Italy was very impressive while Australia’s line was crossed for the first time this tournament by the USA, but went on to win 55-19.
Finishing the top of pool E Australia is guaranteed a semi-final berth, however, they will be without star running loose forward Toutai Kefu banned for 14 days for his toe-to-toe with Ireland’s enforcer Trevor Brennan.
Australian coach Rod McQueen was upset about the “selective citations”, but acknowledges the tournament has been well run.
Whichever team holds aloft the Webb Ellis trophy on November 6 rugby will be the real winner.
The tsunami of response to revisiting the question of whether changes are needed to the red card system has been ignited by New Zealand referee Brendon Pickerill’s decision to send off Reds Captain, Scott Higginbotham, in their opening match against the Melbourne Rebels last Friday. Recent results have proven that an early red-card send off have resulted in obscuring the final result so much so that the offending team usually loses. This can be exemplified last year when the mighty All Blacks were dealt a fatal blow when Sonny Bill Williams was red-carded against the British & Irish Lions in their second test match denying them the win and consequently a record series white-wash. Wallabies prop, Sekope Kefu, was red-carded against Scotland in their end of season match which resulted in losing the test match 53-24. Also, in 2011, Welsh captain, Sam Warburton, was sent off early in their World Cup quarter-final match against the Wallabies and subsequently suffered defeat and being knocked out of the tournament (see more).
Therefore, it can be demonstrated the devastating effect of a red card, especially early in a match. It can be argued, and heavily was debated by Reds fans, that the Higginbotham dismissal in the first 10 minutes of the Reds opening Super Rugby match had a devastating effect on the final result. Losing your leader so early in a match denies the team the attacking momentum and direction for such a young team and that was noticeable. However, to start questioning the referee’s decision is going against the fundamental principle of rugby, which has been ingrained in our heads since we first picked up the ball. As I have consistently reiterated throughout my rugby career that if there was no referee there is no game and they should be considered sacrosanct. Whether it was Paddy O’Brien, head of World Rugby’s referees, or another official, the decision to protect player welfare is paramount to the continuation of rugby union. An official line in the sand has been drawn and the decision to award a red card when a tackle to the head is enacted, regardless of how much force appears to have or have not occurred.
Players should be taught how to tackle properly and that anything high should be obliterated from the game. The fact that a player of Quade Cooper’s pedigree, having played over sixty tests for the Wallabies, can consistently be sent off for high tackles is astonishing. How can a player come out of such a rugby nursery as Church of England Grammar School’s 1stXV and not be able to tackle is incredulous? Maybe Brad Thorn has a point in his axing.
Player well-fare is the real question that has to be addressed and proper coaching from the grassroots up is the key. Take the emotion out the equation and have a real discussion about how we want OUR game to progress. It is still a contact sport, but we no longer send Christians to the lions, so a little bit of cool-headed clarity is needed.
All 12 elite men’s squads and the four women’s teams that will contest the 2018 Brisbane Global Rugby Tens have been confirmed.
Julian Savea, the second-highest All Blacks try scorer of all time, will spearhead the Hurricanes’ challenge, while young tyro George Bridge will lead a raw but talent-packed Crusaders side in the spectacular day-night tournament at Suncorp Stadium on Friday and Saturday.
Bridge starred at the 2017 tournament as the Crusaders made it to the final without dropping a game, only to be defeated at the final hurdle by the inspired Chiefs.
The Crusaders side also features Ethan Blackadder, the highly-rated son of former All Blacks captain and Crusaders legend Todd Blackadder.
“It’s awesome to be heading to Brisbane once again for the Tens,” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said.
“Last year’s tournament provided some valuable lessons for us leading in to the start of the Super Rugby season, and I’m confident we have a side full of exciting young talent who will be keen to showcase their skills against some quality opposition.”
Drawn in Pool C, the Crusaders begin their campaign with a showdown against Savea’s Hurricanes, followed by a match against Will Genia’s Brumbies on Friday evening. They then meet Olympic Sevens champions Fiji in their final match of pool play on Saturday afternoon.
The Hurricanes’ squad boasts former New Zealand Sevens star Ben Lam and exciting back Jonah Lowe who scored a hat-trick of tries in last week’s pre-season win over the Crusaders in Greymouth.
Up front, young try-scoring prop Alex Fidow – one of Wellington’s Bash Brothers – will add plenty of grunt to the pack.
The 2018 edition of the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens brings together some of the biggest names in the global game alongside some of the brightest stars of the future.
A star-studded Pau line-up featuring seven former All Blacks (including Conrad Smith and Carl Hayman), former Wallabies captain Ben Mowen and former England flanker Steffon Armitage is one of the major drawcards of the 2018 event.
The extensive line-up of internationally-capped players competing this weekend also includes Will Genia (Rebels), Berrick Barnes, Digby Ioane (Panasonic Wild Knights), Samu Kerevi, Taniela Tupou (Reds), Henry Speight, Andrew Walker (Brumbies), Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Liam Messam, Charlie Ngatai (Chiefs), Elliot Dixon, Luke Whitelock (Highlanders) and George Moala, Akira Ioane (Blues).
The 2017 edition of the tournament featured the likes of breakout stars Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape, who both went on to play for the All Blacks against the British & Irish Lions.
This year’s intake of thrilling prospects is led by the likes of Crusaders captain Bridge, Fidow and rising Blues star Caleb Clarke, the son of former All Blacks star Eroni Clarke.
The 2018 wildcard class is headlined by the return to the Blues of ‘King’ Carlos Spencer, while Carl Hayman (Pau), Drew Mitchell (Waratahs), Andrew Walker (Brumbies), Adam Freier (Rebels) and Pita Alatini (Highlanders) will also make cameo appearances back in the professional ranks.
The 2018 tournament also features an expanded four-team women’s competition, presented by Wallace Bishop.
Teams from Queensland, New South Wales, the Brumbies and Rebels will play a full round of pool matches followed by a grand final.
The Brisbane Global Rugby Tens is supported by the Queensland Government through Tourism and Events Queensland and Brisbane City Council through Brisbane Marketing.
BNZ Crusaders squad for Brisbane Global Rugby Tens:
Jone Macilai, George Bridge (C) Manasa Mataele, Braydon Ennor, Jack Stratton, Zach McKay, Brett Cameron, Tima Faingaanuku, Ngane Punivai, Richard Judd, Andrew Makalio, Billy Harmon, Ethan Blackadder, Tom Christie, Jordan Manihera, Hamish Dalzell, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Ben Morris, Dylan Nel, Harrison Allen, Nathan Vella
Hurricanes squad for Brisbane Global Rugby Tens
Julian Savea (c), Brayden lose, Ben Lam, Alex Fidow, Fraser Armstrong, Tolu Fahamokioa, James O’Rielly, Murray Douglas, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Will Mangos, Liam Mitchell, Sam Henwood, Chase Tiatia, Finlay Christie, Jamie Booth, Losi Filipo, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Malo Tuitama, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Jonah Lowe, Trent Renata, Hunter Prescott
Fiji squad for Brisbane Global Rugby Tens
Joeli Veitayaki, Rautnaisa Navuma, Mosese Ducivaki, Viliame Rarasea, Filimoni Seru Camaitovu, Mosese Ducivaki, Peni Raidre, Albert Tuisue, Serupepeli Vularika, Jone Manu Taufaga, Aparosa Tabulawaki, Timoci Senaite, Ifereimi Tovilevu, Lepani Rayala, Inia Tawalo, Veremalua Vugakoto, Kalivate Tawake, Vesi Rarawa, Timoci Sauvoli, Levani Kurimudu, Frank Lomani, Enele Malele, Chris Kurandrani, Penasio Kunabuli, Fabiano Rogovakalali, Eroni Mawi.
Once again, in the rejigged Brisbane Global Tens, the River City plays host to a star-studded line-up of Wallabies, All Blacks, Super Rugby champions past and present for two days of action-packed abridged rugby with 10-a-side players on the field. As last year’s inaugural event proved the record heatwave was sapping on the players and having lots of subs was essential. This year the organisers, Duco Events, have decided to tweak the program to play afternoon/evening matches on Friday and Saturday.
Backing up from last weeks electric HSBC Sevens International event last weekend in Sydney where both Australian teams won their respective tourneys, Tens bridges the gap between fast-paced 7s and the more technical 15-a-side game. Five man scrums means grunt is needed with space out wide for electric backs to impress. However, seeing Brumbies prop, Ben Alexander, have a run with space at last year’s competition was a highlight. This year we have another mobile prop in Taniela Tupuo for the Queensland Reds, which will be great to see in action.
Last night at the Reds intra-squad trial and Twilight Fan Day, Brad Thorn had a few words on the upcoming 10s tournament,
“The Tens provides a good opportunity for the players to put into action what they’ve worked on throughout the pre-season.
“We’ve got three pre-season fixtures this year, we felt it was important to give everyone an opportunity to showcase their skills. It’s a good reward for their hard work.
“Last year’s tournament was fast and physical and provided a good challenge a couple of weeks out from the season. No doubt the guys are looking forward to getting out there in front of our home fans.”
As a precursor to the 2018 Super Rugby competition, both the Australian and New Zealand franchises will showcase their respective 2018 squads alongside the international sides of the Robbie Deans’ Panasonic Wild Knights from Japan, the All Black-studded powerhouse Pau from France and rugby entertainers Fiji rounding out the 12 teams. The 4 teams from Australia, 5 teams from New Zealand combined with the three overseas teams making three even Pools: A, B & C of four.
Pool A: sees the Queensland Reds, Auckland Blues, Melbourne Rebels and Panasonic Wild Knights fight it out. In Pool B: last year’s champions the Chiefs play the Waratahs, Highlanders and Pau. Pool C: sees the Brumbies, Crusaders, Hurricanes and the newcomers, Fiji. This format will run in conjunction with a women’s competition from the four Australian franchises of Reds, Waratahs, Brumbies and Rebels.
The ambassadors for this competition are Kurtly Beale from the Waratahs, Julian Sevea from the Hurricanes and Liam Messam from the champion Chiefs outfit. Also, the French side, Pau, provides former All Black greats Conrad Smith, Colin Slade and others plus former Wallaby captain and Brisbane rugby product, Ben Mowen. Another Brisbane rugby great, Reds & Wallaby hero, Digby Ioane playing for Panasonic Wild Knights says he’s keen with a post on Instagram: “Come support the boys at Suncorp next week. Up the Wild Knights!”
It is with great sadness that this week has seen the passing of legendary Wallaby No. 594, Stanislaus Josef Pilecki, the “Pole” from Queensland. Stan was a larger than life character I had the fortune to watch play out at Ballymore in the early 1980s. I was astounded by the fact that he was 36 and still playing for Australia, thinking that playing in the front row may add to your longevity to your career, not realizing that prop forward was the hardest position.
In recent times I met him a few times on his beloved Moreton Island where he had a sort of bungalow place that he brought rugby teams over to train. He talked often about how he loved being involved in rugby, especially his cherished time with the Bulldogs at Wests on Sylvyn Road.
Having played over 100 times for Queensland and his name will be forever immortalised in the Pilecki Medal given to the best performing Queensland Reds player of the season.
Watching rugby leagues gala event, the Dally M Awards,live from The Star in Sydney, tonight, one questions what is the future of a code that has been relegated to “boutique” status that rugby union now occupies. Queensland and New South wales are the only true “rugby” states in the Australian landscape with the Australian Football League (AFL) dominating the rest. I am reminded of a guy from Melbourne I was talking to in China, in 2011, and how he remarked that it was incredible to him that Australia did so well in rugby union when most of the country does not understand the game; at the time we were ranked No. 2 in the world behind the New Zealand (who went on to win their second World Cup later on that year).
A stark contrast to our near neighbours, New Zealand, that absolutely worship the code from Auckland to Bluff. I remember visiting there in the late 1990s and being amused by the New Zealand Herald’s coverage of news being dominated by rugby union. Even the real estate pages making note of All Black legend Murray Mexted (1979~86) selling a property in Auckland. So often I scan the Courier Mail in the hope that there’s a least some mention of rugby union amongst the voluminous coverage of rugby league and more often then not there is not any.
Mal Meninga (Kangaroos Coach) made a great speech praising the exploits of Dally Messenger, from which the awards are taken. Reiterating the fact that this rugby union great was instrumental in the creation of rugby league in this country over one hundred years ago. Built on mateship and looking after the guy who was injured on the weekend playing the game he loves without any recompense from his employer. Once rugby union became professional in October 1995, the relevance of rugby league would then come under question. However, this was not to be, the stranglehold of that code has on the eastern states of Queensland and New South Wales were to prove too strong. The fact that the State of Origin has such a powerful following in those two states, akin to the AFL grand final in the rest of the country, that to supplement it would be sacrilege.
Growing up in a decidedly pro-rugby union family the code has always been my passion. To pull on my high school’s 1st XV jersey was an honour that I will cherish to the grave. The opportunities and friendships that it has created for me throughout the world bodes testament to a code that has relevance, just maybe not so much in my home country, Australia. Having played in Canada, USA, Japan, France and even China has opened my eyes to a sport that is truly an international game and growing stronger and broader every year. There is not an international bar in Asia worth its salt if rugby union games are not telecast, sadly that is not the case in Brisbane. I have driven to several pubs on a Friday night trying to find a venue showing the Super Rugby, despite the local Queensland Reds playing, to no avail.
After what I described as our annus horribilis the code will surely resurrect itself and hold a prominent position on the Australian sporting landscape. If it takes billionaire, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, in Western Australia to inject the capital to garnish more interest in rugby with his IPRC than that is not a bad thing. There will surely be more pain before a silver lining, but the code will survive and hopefully come out better for the anguish that has been caused in 2017.
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.