Posts tagged ‘ARU’

Stuck in Time

Australian Rugby has been through a pretty torrid time of late, but wins against the Barbarians and Wales will have put a smile on the face of many of those with furrowed brows a month ago.

They say that success can often hide many issues that continue to exist behind the scenes, and frequently that has been proven. Let us hope that there is no papering over the cracks and that any problems are given due attention and solutions found.

Interestingly Rugby in Australia does not appear to have moved on too far in the past 70-odd years as the following quote, which was made by Cyril Towers to the Daily Telegraph in Sydney in 1940, will attest.

“I’m tired of the Union’s petty muddling and stupid administration. They’ve killed my enthusiasm for football. Until we adopt New Zealand methods and put men at the head of affairs who understand football, the game won’t have a chance. Young and promising players are not in the race unless they are in big with the executive. Ability on the field does not mean a thing. It is far more important to go down to headquarters and pat a few people on the back than it is to play brilliant football.”

Towers has been described as “one of the most accomplished exponents of back line play Australia has ever produced, and it is improbable that any centre played with greater guile than Towers at his best.”

As much as people moan about the way things are today, it often pays to look back at history and find out how things changed, if they did. Often you can learn a lot. The one thing the ARU needs to be careful of is that top flight players do not lose their enthusiasm for the game and head overseas for the money, as currently those wearing the green and gold are in the main here for the pride they have in wearing the Australian colours. If that becomes a chore they will soon head overseas.

With the World Cup around the corner the ARU and the game in general cannot afford that.

 

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November 12, 2014 at 7:51 am Leave a comment

Cummins Going

As fans of sport we never want to see our favourite players leave the clubs we support. When this happens the club’s administrators tend to suffer the wrath, rather than the player, when sometimes the player deserves it more.

Today’s announcement that Australian Rugby’s favourite winger, Nick Cummins was being released from his Australian rugby contract early, was disappointing, but when when understands the circumstances behind the decision it is makes total sense and the Australian Rugby Union and the Western Force are to be applauded for allowing him to head to Japan.

Cummins is a breath of fresh air to not only rugby, but professional sport. A man who lets his personality come to the fore on and off the pitch. He has due to this become the face of Australian rugby, and never have the words “honey badger” and “meat pie” been used so much. We are sure the Australian Rollers Wheelchair Basketball team who have had the Honey badger as their mascot for many years would love him to become their honorary patron as the publicity would be a huge benefit; they defend their world title next week.

Nick Cummins has signed with Japanese team Coca Cola West Red Sparks for next season. To many the timing is very odd especially with a World Cup being held next year and that only Australian based players will be selected for Australia. Although this rule is expected to change after the World Cup, when pin up Israel Folau heads to Europe.

Cummins reasons for leaving are extremely personal. Cummins is the fourth of eight children, “So I missed out on a medal” he has said. His younger brother Joe and his younger sister Lizzie both have cystic fibrosis, and are being looked after back in rural Queensland by their single parent father, Mark. His father has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

It would appear that Cummins, who has said his family are the most important things in his life and keep him grounded, is heading to Japan to earn some much needed money to help support his family. “A unique set of circumstances” is how his request to be released from his contract has been explained, and no one can begrudge him making such a move. It would be nice if the club, the ARU or even the sea of the blue organised a fund raiser for this special man who is such a refreshing character. It would be great to see the fans give back to him and his family for all he has given us. ( This writer would MC such an event for free).

Even if they did, the money he will earn in Japan will no doubt go a long way to helping his family moving forward. Hopefully he will be back soon, but no one should criticise him for making such a move. He should go with our blessing and we should all hope that his return is not that far away. In the meantime hats off to all for understanding the situation, and allowing common sense to prevail.

July 4, 2014 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

Is It Really Super?

All sports fans know that modern day sport is all about money. All professional sports outfits know that obtaining sponsorship to support the sport or the team is becoming increasingly harder. Yet many administrators see expansion as a way to secure more money. More games gives sponsors more exposure, and means more airtime on television. So that in turn that must mean the broadcast contract goes up in value as the television station must be able to sell the sponsorship, as they have more opportunities for advertising breaks thanks to more games.

Sadly what many of those who think along these lines do not realise is fans want to see top quality sport. With the internet and competitions from around the world available on pay-TV, or even free to air television, the genuine sports fan knows what a good game is and what isn’t.

SANZAR have finally come to an agreement to once again revamp Super Rugby. It will expand yet again and will grow from 15 to 18 teams. Argentina will have a team, South Africa a sixth team and the last team will be accepted on a tender basis. Japan is favourite at this point in time, but it would be good to see the Island nations join the fray. Despite the expansion the number of games played by teams not making the finals will be exactly the same. So why the change?

Super Rugby is just about perfect at the moment with five teams in each country. All of the teams get to meet their fellow teams from their home nation on a home and away basis, and also have games against New Zealand and South African opposition. The only way the league could have been improved was if every team played each other at least once.

The new format from 2016 will see South Africa have a conference of 8 teams split into two pools of four.  There will continue to be five teams in Australia and New Zealand, and all of the Australian teams will play all New Zealand teams each season; compared to playing four New Zealand teams per season in the current structure. All Australian teams will play all the teams in one pool of the two in South Africa.

The finals too will be expanded to include five teams from the Australasian Group and three from the South African Group.

CEO of the ARU, Bill Pulver has been understandably upbeat about the developments, “The international nature of Super Rugby makes it unique. It’s already one of the world’s most exciting provincial Rugby competitions, and with the changes announced today, it has the potential to become a truly global competition.” He said.  “Our strong preference is for the 18th team to come from Asia as we believe this will attract significant commercial opportunities for us in the future.”

Then came the clincher, when Mr Pulver said the new competition structure is an appealing proposition for broadcasters, which has the potential to deliver significant positive outcomes and growth opportunities for Rugby in Australia. Let us wait and see on that one.

“Negotiating a significantly increased broadcast deal is the single greatest opportunity we have to increase revenue for Rugby in Australia, which will ensure we can deliver on our strategic priorities and grow the game by continuing to contribute to funding Super Rugby teams; retaining our best talent; new competitions; and by creating an overall better experience for our fan base, especially on game day.” Mr Pulver said, which implies that rugby is already spending money that it hopes will come in from this new format in order to finance the National Rugby Championship. What happens if that money does not come?

Mr Pulver was on a roll, “It’s crucial for the long-term success of the Qantas Wallabies that we’re playing the best opposition in the world on a regular basis, and this has been reinforced by the new model offering the Australasian Conference a guaranteed five of eight places in the Super Rugby Finals Series. With a broader pool of playing talent, more venues and extra match-ups, the new structure presents fantastic opportunities for our players and fans.”

It is not about quantity, its about quality. If the expansion diminishes the quality of the tournament, fans will drop off in numbers. Why have the public stopped watching the Wallabies in recent years? The answer is because against the best two teams in the World New Zealand and South Africa, they have not been able to match them. Its all about quality. Australia has to allow players who have gone overseas to still represent the Wallabies, the talent pool is not strong enough to do otherwise, if they don’t its going to be a very long wait before we see an Australian lift the World Cup again.

There is no doubt this is good news for budding young players, as more opportunities will arise, but what happens if New Zealand teams take most of the finals spots from the Australasian pool come finals time?

This may look good in a powerpoint presentation but one feels Australian rugby is walking a tightrope. If they manage to get to the other side then all well and good but fans should expect a few wobbles along the way. For the sake of the sport let us hope there is a safety net.

New Zealand and South Africa have traditional competitions which breed conveyor belts of talent, Australia does not, and that is why Australia needs Super Rugby. Australian teams must perform for this new format to be successful.

 

May 1, 2014 at 5:11 pm Leave a comment

Super Rugby to Shun South Africa?

Where to for Super Rugby? It comes as no great surprise that SANZAR officials are struggling to agree on the best format for a new Super Rugby competition. Some will ask why does the tournament need to re-invent itself once more, and if the competition is expanded even further what impact is that going to have on the International game and the toll on the bodies of the top players from each nation. Australia has already proved that it does not have the talent pool within Australia to sustain a World Cup challenging Wallabies outfit; it must accept that players should not be excluded from selection if they opt to play overseas.

Meetings have been carried out for months between Australian, New Zealand and South African rugby officials but still they seem unable to reach a simple solution for expanding Super Rugby. They have agreed to admit a sixth South African team and also an Argentine side; which was logical after this nation became a part of the Rugby Championship Tournament.

There is a strong push to welcome a franchise in Asia, expected to be from Japan, which would open up huge sponsorship potential as well as a new television market.

Interestingly former All Black Andrew Mehrtens has said that he believes the competition should look to exclude South Africa as it moves forward. Writing a column for Stuff.co.nz he said “I can’t help thinking we might have lost a little interest in playing South African teams, and that ultimately the future of this competition might be more localised round time zones.”

Could this view stem from the fact that South Africa has for a while eyed off the opportunity of linking into the European competitions and six nations as opposed to the Southern Hemisphere competitions? This has been based on travel and time zones and in theory makes sense. The downside is Australia and New Zealand playing each other year in year out is not going to have the same appeal as having a powerhouse like South Africa in the mix.

Saying that, the performances of the South African teams on the road this year in Super Rugby is terrible, they have not won a single game in ten outings in New Zealand and Australia.

“The logistics of involving South Africa are problematic – the travel and time difference – and maybe it would be better for all concerned just to play within our time zone and include teams from the Pacific Islands and Japan. You might have 20 teams in our time-zone – eight or so from New Zealand, maybe six in Australia and the rest from the islands and Japan.” Mehrtens wrote.

Some have felt for a long time that SANZAR should have welcomed the island nations into Super Rugby long ago, that it was almost their duty to assist these nations in improving. Promises were made and broken twice as Super Rugby expanded and no doubt they will all be miffed that once again they may be overlooked in favour of an Argentine or Japanese team.

What option do the island players have than to move to Australia and New Zealand and then pledge allegiance to those nations in order to play test rugby. The sad thing is if you speak to most of the players who have done that, most will tell you they would rather have played for their island nation.

Interestingly New Zealand is currently bemoaning a similar issue, that of their top coaches being poached by European clubs, and up and coming players by Australian franchises and then donning the colours of the Wallabies.

Mike Harris at the Queensland Reds had only been living in Australia for two years and playing Super Rugby for a year before he was selected for the Wallabies. He had not been picked up by a New Zealand franchise despite starring in the ITM Cup. Western Force full back Jayden Hayward, who hails from Taranaki, had spells with the Highlanders and the Hurricanes before crossing the Tasman, he even played Sevens for New Zealand, but now is looking to make himself available for Australia. The Melbourne Rebels too have New Zealanders who may switch allegiance in Jason Woodward and Scott Fuglistaller. Both come from Wellington, Woodward never played Super Rugby in his homeland while Fugilstaller played a couple of games for the Highlanders but was unable to hold down a regular place.

Is this good for Australian rugby? Surely the loss of South Africa to the Super Rugby competition as Mehrtens has suggested would see more New Zealanders moving to an Asian franchise and the drain on players continuing.

Whichever way the leaders at SANZAR eventually opt to take, the IRB needs to put in stronger rules in relation to players switching nations at international level. Obviously there should not be a restraint of trade in terms of the franchises signing players in order to be competitive, as that benefits the tournament as a whole, but qualification periods should be enforced for International appearances. That honour should never be given away lightly.

As for the worrying issue of New Zealand and South African players strengthening the Australian Super Rugby franchises at the expense of local talent, that too needs to be monitored and controlled by the Australian Rugby Union. If these players add to the development of Australian players as is currently evident at the Western Force, and also instil a rugby culture and make competition for places stiffer thereby raising the standard of Australian players then that has to be a good thing. It can only benefit Australian rugby in the end. It does however need to be monitored and the ARU.

As for South African born Mehrtens idea that South Africa be left out of Super Rugby, that could well be the death knell for the competition as we know it. One thing is for sure he was never greatly loved in the Republic and his comments are not going to have helped improve that relationship; but he will not lose any sleep over the matter.

April 17, 2014 at 9:40 am 1 comment

Australian Sport Lived the Dream, Now Facing Reality.

It has not been a good year for Australian sport, the cricketers, the wallabies, the socceroos have all struggled to win, and with these struggles coming on the back of a disappointing Olympic Games in London there has been plenty of navel gazing

The news last week that Australian Rugby Union is going broke stunned many, but not those in the know. Added to this is the worrying state of the Super rugby franchises. Rugby Union is having to take a good hard look at itself and try and unravel some of the player contracts that they negotiated to keep players in Australia, and it has to act fast.

What is incredible is how football and rugby are facing many of the same problems at the moment, although football is loathe to admit it has any, as it is desperate to appear as if it is finally fulfilling its potential. Crowds attending A-league games are bound to agree that the code is heading in the right direction.

The ARU has stated that it is struggling to fund the game at development level, football too is struggling to meet those needs, with parents being asked to dip into their pockets for more and more money. This is one area the AFL does a great job, making sure funds from the highest level filter down to the youth level; but then again they do not have to fund international teams playing overseas in worldwide tournaments at a variety of ages!

Like the Socceroos, the Wallabies are not currently playing well and there have been complaints from former players that there is no longer a pride in wearing the jersey, or shirt. We doubt that this is true. Sure some players may not hurt as much as others following a defeat, but any player who wears the national colours, has to be proud to wear them, don’t they?

One thing that is clear, is as in football, rugby can no longer rely solely on home-based talent. They have to widen the selection circle and invite those players who have opted to head to Europe or Japan to earn bigger salaries, back into the international fold. George Smith proved against the British and Irish Lions that he was still up to the task, and the Wallabies benefitted.

Unlike their football counterparts Australian rugby union faces a major dilemma. It’s teams play in the toughest club rugby competition, Super Rugby, and then the best players from that competition play in the Rugby Championship against the perennially best two sides in the world, New Zealand and South Africa. So when they are going through a transitional period, – like now – results look a great deal worse, and as a result their world ranking is affected. Losses also result in fans starting to stay at home and revenues begin to dip.

The Socceroos and A-League players are lucky they do not play in similar competitions each year! However sadly the current success of the A-league in terms of excitement is papering over the international capability and player development cracks.

Currently Wallabies are paid $14,000 a test match. The Socceroos for the World Cup Qualifiers were paid $20,000 each. The similarities are clear.

The FFA would be wise to cast a glance in rugby’s direction over the next two years and watch carefully what they do to right the ship, because football could find itself in a similar position in tow or four years.

Football’s sudden clarion call for a home-grown national coach, has nothing to do with the successful A-League coaches being ready to take the reins, it comes down to the final realisation that those charged with developing players have under-performed and Australia faces the very real prospect of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and losing the $10-12million windfall that comes from qualifying. The truth is, as Ange Postecoglou stated ‘it should be the best man for the job,’ however that will have to be tempered with the clause, based on the funds on offer.

Why does Australian sport suddenly find itself in this position? Let’s face it cricket is not in a much better position either. Have Australia’s sports administrators made the same mistakes that many European top flight football clubs have made, ‘lived the dream,’ and spent beyond their means to remain at the top?

They have paid the top players well, but they have failed to bring through the second wave of players. With World Cups in each sport regeneration should take place after every world cup finals; but worldwide it rarely does. In football only Brazil have won back to back World Cups, and that was back in 1958 and 1962. In cricket the West Indies won two in a row, while Australia achieved a hat-trick of successes from 1999-2007*, in rugby no team has defended their World Cup crown successfully.

To compete consistently hard decisions need to be made as to when to drop players and bring in new talent, but just as important is while you are successful the money that success generates must be invested at the bottom of the sport, and not chewed up by those at the top. It is crucial that this happens across many sports in the next few years if Australia is to once again compete at the levels many expect.

* From their 1999 World Cup victory to the 2003 one, only five players remained in the Australian side: Gilchrist, Ponting, Lehmann, Bevan and McGrath. From 2003 to their 2007 success there were six: Gilchrist, Hayden, Ponting, Symonds, Hogg and McGrath. On both occasions they defended their title close to half the team was rejuvenated. Only three players played in all three winning finals, Gilchrist, Ponting and McGrath.

October 22, 2013 at 8:12 am Leave a comment

Farewell, and Now to the Future

It was a day for resignations yesterday with Rugby WA CEO Vern Reid announcing that he will not be seeking an extension of his contract and Head of the ARU John O’Neill stepping down from his role as Chief Executive. Neither announcement came as a great shock.

Reid received criticism from many in local Rugby, along with the board for bowing to player power when coachRichard Graham announced he was leaving at the end of the season, despite telling the coach he could see out his contract he did a backflip and Graham was shown the door halfway through the Super Rugby season. It is therefore interesting that Mr Reid will continue in the role until a replacement is found. Is this double standards? The loss of star player David Pocock was always going to leave Mr Reid in a tenuous position and hence his decision to move on may well have come at the right time. He has in the main done a good job at Rugby WA and it is sad that his time will probably be remembered for the last six months in the role. Should the new coaching staff bring the much desired results then let us not forget his part in their recruitment.

John O’Neill has been touted as one of the great Australian sports administrators, yet he has always managed to polarise people. One thing that has to be admired about Mr O’Neill is he was never afraid to front the media and tell them what he thought, unlike many other highly paid CEOs. He has had two spells at the ARU and his first was clearly more successful than his second. Taking on the role as Rugby Union turned professional he oversaw what was a Golden era of Australian Rugby and was lucky to be at the helm when the Wallabies had an extraordinary coach in Rod MacQueen and Captain in John Eales. At that time Australian rugby swept all before them, World Cup in 1999, Tri Nations, Bledisloe Cup, Mandela Cup and Tom Richards Trophy victory over the British and Irish Lions.

O’Neill also over saw the highly successful 2003 Rugby World Cup that left the ARU with a $44million windfall. O’Neill has been ambitious but his outspokenness which gave him the headlines also restricted his advancement. So he moved to Football. There he oversaw the birth of the Hyundai A League, and despite putting all of his eggs in one basket like the many who had gone before, was fortunate that the Socceroos prevailed in a penalty shoot-out to go to their first World Cup in 32 years. It was a gamble that assured him legendary status. Once again he wooed the headline hungry media but upset those above him. The timing of his departure was ideal. Australian football was once again dreaming of qualifying for World Cups and the A League was still riding the crest of a wave as a new tournament. Yet what did he establish for the grassroots level of the game, for the development of the next generation of Socceroos? Six years after his departure back to rugby those answers are becoming glaringly obvious.

O’Neill returned to Rugby Union and one of the first things he did was slam the door on the excellent and much needed Australian Rugby Championship, a competition below Super Rugby similar to the Currie Cup in South Africa and the ITM cup in New Zealand. He did however do a lot of good the second time around much of it not obvious to the public. He introduced private equity to Australia’s Super Rugby franchises. He expanded Rugby’s footprint by taking the competition into Melbourne. He has also finally fulfilled his long held ambition of gaining a place of influence at international level and not just in Australia; he is chairman of the IRB’s regulations committee and sits on the board of Rugby World Cup Ltd. Let us also not forget that he appointed Australia’s first foreign coach in Robbie Deans, no doubt hoping that Deans could weave the magic that Guus Hiddink had in football, and bring home the William Webb Ellis Cup. Unfortunately he didn’t and the pressure on the two has been mounting ever since.

As much as his departure came as no surprise,what was baffling to many is how the ARU could allow a man in such a key role to have other business commitments. Chairman of the ARU Michael Hawker stating that “John’s workload beyond Rugby has recently grown significantly, and unexpectedly, through his chairmanship of Echo Entertainment,” a Casino company. One has to question how a board, any board at national or state level, can allow a man who is paid an extremely good wage to hold other positions that mean he does not have 100% focus on doing what is essential for the sport he represents. This has to be the biggest indictment on the ARU board, and stakeholders around Australia should be asking questions as to how this was the case.

Ironically the one issue that O”Neill pushed for in his return in 2007 was a review of rugby’s governance, something that had it been done earlier may well have helped him in his tasks over the past five years. The review has now been conducted by former Labor politician Mark Arbib has conducted and he will present his findings to the ARU board on the 22nd of October, but O’Neill will not be there to reap its possible rewards.

 

October 13, 2012 at 10:22 am Leave a comment

Good Sports Donate to Flood Victims

In these times where modern day sports stars are paid salaries that beggar belief it is refreshing to see so many coming to the aid of Queensland’s flood victims.

Socceroo and Everton striker Tim Cahill, has put on offer on ebay flights to the UK seats in his box at Goodison Park to watch Everton play as well as a collection of signed memorabilia. At the time of writing bidding is already over AUD25k.

Australian cricket fans may well have booed Kevin Peterson during this summer’s Ashes series but he is offering tickets airfares and accommodation to the one day international between England and Australia in Perth, along with his shirt and a bat from the Ashes series.

Tennis star Andy Roddick has pledged AUD10k, the AFL have promised $500k, while the Queensland Reds brothers Saia and Anthony Faingaa have agreed to donate their match fees from their first Super 15 match this year, and have urged other players to do the same. The ARU has reacted and agreed to donate $50k.

This has been good to see when so many sportsmen are accused of being greedy and living lifestyles that are excessive.

The Socceroos captain Lucas Neill has pledged the national team’s support for the flood victims and has said that the squad will look to raise cash to help financial appeals. Which will come as a relief to football fans as news that they had donated a signed shirt for auction left many very disappointed that they could not do more.

Let us hope this generousity continues.

January 12, 2011 at 11:01 am Leave a comment

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