It's nearly been two weeks since the finale and the dust is starting to settle. Media have rolled on to horseracing and the cricket and the Rugby World Cup stories are now prefaced with “remember when…” So that’s it right? Chapter closed. On to other things… absolutely not.
Not for the players, not for RUPA and not for the game.
There is wind in the sails that all rugby stakeholders must embrace.
It was not beyond expectations that the Wallabies would do everything they could for their country to win as many games of rugby union as possible. That commitment and desire is in each of the 33 men selected to wear the jersey, and there is no question that the Wallabies - who won ten of their 12 matches this year - delivered. But the scoreboard is not the only measure of success.
And what will arguably be the most significant and inspiring legacy of 2015 is that whenever the opportunity arose, players, coaches and management spoke of the importance of what it meant to represent Australia, what it meant to make the fans proud, and that translated in how they went about their work on the field.
Over the course of the Rugby World Cup, 2.5 million people attended matches with a stadium occupancy rate of 98%. A staggering 25 million Japanese fans woke in the early hours of the morning to watch their Cherry Blossoms defeat Samoa in their final pool game. The worldwide audience for the RWC Final is estimated at 120 million. Needless to say there was unprecedented interest in what was taking place on the field.
In 2011, the Wallabies placed third at the RWC in New Zealand losing to the hosts in the Semi Final. It would be our arch nemeses who would again end our 2015 campaign; only this time the Wallabies finished one place higher – runners-up.
So why is it that this time the sails of the Sydney Opera House turned green and gold and embodied the national support that swelled behind this campaign?
We had a glimpse of it earlier in the year when offered a shot at penalty goal, or deep lineout in the dying stages of the Springbok thriller in Brisbane. We saw it again when the team found a way to win after playing well beneath their best against Scotland. And at 17-21 in the Final it was what gave us all the belief that the greatest comeback in RWC history was not out of reach.
How the Wallabies played, behaved, spoke and smiled at this year’s RWC has reinvigorated Australian Rugby for its fans, and has sent a large flare skyward seeking the attention of a new audience yet to be engaged by rugby’s charm.
And now, after one of the most important year’s in Australian Rugby’s history, what comes next?
The 2016 Super Rugby season will be the biggest yet. The expansion to 18 teams will deliver new intrigue to the competition. The Reds have knocked it out of the park with their explanation of the new season, so rather than us explain further best to take a couple of minutes to check it out.
The 2015 Buildcorp NRC flew under the radar whilst the RWC was prominent in the public eye. For those that missed it, there were more tries, less penalties and the competition continued to prove its value in exposing over 150 elite and non-Super Rugby contracted players to a more challenging rugby at a semi-professional level. There is work to be done to improve the competition’s commercial capacity and to support the teams with fewer contracted players to be more threatening for future years. Congratulations to Brisbane City on another sensational year.
Thanks to the 127 players who completed the RUPA NRC Players Survey, giving us their feedback on the competition. We’re working our way through the results and look forward to tabling your thoughts and ideas with the teams and the ARU in order to advance the NRC for years to come.
It’s an exciting end to the year for RUPA, with our Awards Lunch one month away. This year, we’ll recognise rugby’s high achievers – for their efforts both on and off the field – and celebrate 20 years of professional rugby.
This year we recorded the highest amount of reimbursements offered to professional and semi-professional players across the country to assist them with the financial cost of their education and career development. Thanks to the ARU and the Super Rugby teams for their ongoing support of the RUPA Player Development Program (PDP), which plays an important role in giving players the skills and tools to live their lives outside of and beyond rugby.
Finally, we welcome Ed Jenkins and Gemma Etheridge to our Board as our first ever Men’s and Women’s Sevens Directors respectively. RUPA President Benn Robinson best sums up the importance of these appointments here and we join him in wishing Ed and the Men’s Sevens side all the best in their Oceania Qualifier this weekend.