The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that somebody in the New Zealand Rugby Union has leaked information that the NZRU board wants a new trans-Tasman rugby competition, featuring all the Kiwi Super Rugby teams but a couple less of the Aussie ones.
Given that there are people in Australia who think that the ‘less is more’ model for Australian Super Rugby teams is a good idea for the Wallabies, it is hard to know whether the SMH leaks are actually from New Zealand, are just mischief being spread by Australian sources, or both.
Whatever the case, it appears to be just another example of the tiresome tactic by people with an agenda, hijacking the beginning of a rugby competition in this country with leaks, which then suck the life out of the good news being generated on the field.
So I’ve got a suggestion that the leakers and everybody else might like to try discussing maturely behind closed doors or with honest attribution in public, which might save us all this nonsense.
Having provincial teams from the southern hemisphere remains vital for the code, but that having a Super Rugby competition, finals series and trophy is not.
I propose that after a domestic rugby season where the best teams from each country duke it out for national honours, we should all send our teams on tour of other countries and host a tour ourselves, minus the finals series and the trophy that has been a fixture of Super Rugby for over two decades.
While chasing a Super Rugby trophy has been a great thrill throughout the existence of the competition, the need to organise an international competition to facilitate that has become too much of a hassle. While so many teams are spread across countries with dramatically different time zones, geography, markets and levels of rugby development, there are always going to be arguments about numbers of teams, timing and allocation of funds.
It has become impossible to put together a competition that will please everybody. In recent years, nobody has been happy with Super Rugby.
While foregoing a finals series and trophy would be a significant sacrifice, moving to a period on the rugby calendar where provincial sides could just organise tours for their own sake would create a massive degree of flexibility for rugby administrators.
For example, regarding the current issue of team selection, the big benefit of the proposal is that countries could choose the number of teams that they have based on their own needs. Importantly, teams from countries that have been excluded from Super Rugby, such as from the Pacific Islands, could be far more easily included.
Furthermore, there would be no need to organise competition schedules to ensure that everybody plays everybody else, with the hideous travel requirements that this has entailed. If you want a three-match tour at home or away against the same team and can negotiate it, that’s fine. If you want to play different teams on the same tour then that is fine too.
On team development, the big benefit would be that teams would still get experience with overseas travel and playing a variety of overseas opponents. Also, coaches could experiment more freely knowing that there isn’t a competition at stake.
Agreements about money could be made bilaterally, depending on the circumstances of the individual participating teams, and trophies could still be fought over between individual teams to mark old rivalries.
Finally, if a country gets an outbreak of COVID-19, as is likely over the next few years, the entire competition format wouldn’t be thrown into chaos and potentially lost, as it is this year.
As a Queensland fan I would be quite happy to only have a finals series for a domestic competition to determine the best team in Australia, while determining the best rugby nation in the hemisphere for the Rugby Championship.
It would still give me the opportunity to watch my team the Reds play for a cup, then play top quality rugby against a variety international clubs, which I would enjoy for its own sake.
I won’t speak for others on their preferred competition format, people can do that for themselves. However, I do think that most rugby fans would be far more receptive to honest conversations about how they are going to have good rugby to watch, than they will be as a result of this cloak-and-dagger nonsense that is yet again being played out in the media.
If Rugby Australia and others interested in a positive change cannot stop the leakers, then is time to start talking over them.