Players united in support of five Australian Super Rugby teams

By Pete Fairbairn, 16.02.17

Australia’s professional Rugby players are staunch in their opposition to any mooted alternative models which would reduce Australia’s representation in the Super Rugby competition for 2018 and beyond.

In reference to next month’s SANZAAR Executive Committee meeting which will consider a preferred model for Super Rugby beyond this season, RUPA CEO Ross Xenos said that “This is a great opportunity for the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) to continue to advance the interests of Australian Rugby at the SANZAAR table.

“There is no denying that the current 18-team model has posed challenges that are real and which merit the consideration of alternatives. The breadth of time zones, the lack of tribalism, and fewer home fixtures for each team to commercialise has perpetuated the economic pressure that the new broadcast deal was hoped to eliminate.

“Professional Rugby is the economic engine of the game in Australia and we need more local content, not less, generating a larger revenue base to reinvest into premier and community Rugby. The ARU has a vision to ‘inspire all Australians’ but there is nothing inspirational for any of the game’s stakeholders in voluntarily going backwards.”

RUPA President Dean Mumm endorsed the players’ commitment.

“The players are engaged in ensuring that any new competition model genuinely remedies the current competition’s strategic failings and delivers more relevant, local derbies for Australian Rugby fans to enjoy,” Mumm said.

“Other codes in this country are growing their domestic competitions and fixtures at significant pace, and we simply can’t do the opposite in an attempt to shrink our way to success.

“It is vital that we preserve all opportunities for players and coaches to enter the professional Rugby pathway all across the country; the game needs to inspire the next generation to play Rugby and a successful national shopfront is paramount to that effort. Maximising elite opportunities for players and enhancing our state programs is the best strategy to fight the international player drain and develop our depth for Super Rugby and Wallaby competitiveness.

“By retaining five teams throughout the remainder of the current broadcast agreement, we allow time for a robust professional competition to be mapped out, and for World Rugby global season discussions to conclude, in order to develop a highly competitive and lucrative model to support Australian Rugby for all.”

Mumm and Xenos’ statements come amid speculation that the ARU Board may on Monday endorse the Australian position to be advanced at the SANZAAR Executive Committee in March. For that SANZAAR meeting to implement any changes to the current competition structure, a unanimous vote among the four joint venture partners is required.

Therefore, regardless of other nations’ views, if the ARU were opposed to any reduction in the number of Australian teams then the status quo would be retained for the remainder of the broadcast agreement.

In 2016, after just one season of a four-conference, 18 team competition, SANZAAR undertook a formal review process to investigate all number of different competition structures ranging from 15 teams to an expanded 24 team competition. Of the current 18 teams, only teams from within Australia and South Africa are believed to be under threat to being excluded from the competition moving forward.

If an Australian team was removed from the competition in 2018, the position of players contracted to that team beyond the end of this Super Rugby season is uncertain. The costs saved by hypothetically removing a team are unclear and may not be significant depending on many variables.

Pete Fairbairn
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