Australian Super Rugby Teams: Under Threat or Underrated?

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 02: Players wrestle during the round two Super Rugby match between the Western Force and the Reds at nib Stadium on March 2, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The outside perception of Australian Super Rugby teams are, that there are usually four strong teams, and one that struggles. The divisive issue is that that one side is not always the same one: in the past, you would have said the Western Force–but, what if I told you that they were leading the Australian conference currently?

That inconsistency is both a reason, but also an argument that several of the franchises would take up, in discussions of the future shape of Super Rugby. The Force could represent today that their placing is justifying their case to stay in Super Rugby–whereas the Queensland Reds and Melbourne Rebels would have a case for themselves. And; with decisions looming for the competition format, it is the argument that concerns all parties.

Australian Super Rugby Teams: Under Threat or Underrated?

SANZAAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby) are in the final machinations of a long-term plan. The current meeting taking place will look intently at many issues. Most notably, whether the competition can survive with 18 teams. What the structure, format, quantity and quality will be in the future.

Many have openly complained, with former Australian Rugby CEO John O’Neil openly admitting last week “It will take some very bold decision-making,” O’Neill told the Daily Telegraph.

“Am I suggesting it’s an easy solution? No, it’s not. “

“But you cannot continue with an 18-team competition, which isn’t even a genuine competition. Latitudinal competitions – east/west competitions – do not work.”

Super Rugby Considering All the Options

This is anathema to a decision on both the quantity, and franchises whom will continue in Super Rugby 2019. Be it 18 teams, 15 or a number/system of SANZAAR’s choosing. Topics included a promotion relegation system with two-tiers of sides.

Obviously, the interested stakeholders are the teams, the owners and contributors to that franchise (this would include Japan Rugby), and of course their fans. Let us not forget who is watching, and in many ways, paying for the competition.

Currently, the four conferences are made up of:
  • AFRICA ONE: Stormers, Cheetahs, Bulls and the Sunwolves [Japan]
  • AFRICA TWO: Lions, Southern Kings, Jaguares [Argentina] and the Sharks
  • NEW ZEALAND: Hurricanes, Chiefs, Highlanders, Crusaders and the Blues
  • AUSTRALIA: Rebels, Force, Reds, Waratahs and the ACT Brumbies

Decisions to be Made Must be Fair

All have a vested interest, and are operating in the current Super Rugby system where 18 teams play in those four conferences. The quarter finals are them composed of the top placed conference winners (4) playing the next best overall teams. This saw only one of the Australian Super Rugby teams qualify in 2016.

By that account, and if this decision were based on performance, then the lowest finishing sides overall might be considered as ‘under threat’. But is that fair? No, and it would be an argument that might become both a legal rift, and a geographic collision of wills. A team who has won the competition; like the Reds or Blues, will argue that their status would justify inclusion.

Factoring in performance only, then franchise management would argue that it might not be last year that indicates who is the poorest performing team. It could be calculated over several years–from when Super 15 grew into the current format. If a four-year pattern were considered, then it might reflect that sides constant results.

So if fans were to view the argument on two-hands: it would be ‘who is Under Threat?’ and ‘which teams past performance is Underrated?’.

Super Rugby Teams Under Threat

If any unbiased view is made, it could show that the three Australian teams might be under threat: the Force, Reds and Rebels. Their recent form aside, past history shows that all were necessarily unable to consistently compete across the board.

*irrespective of placing’s alongside other nations, this analysis is solely on the Australian Super Rugby teams.

The aggregate results place the Reds as highest performing, with the Rebels next and the Force with the least consistent overall results (not counting their place today, after two rounds of the 2018 competition).

Super Rugby Teams Underrated

Any organisation who might undertake self-examination, would look at many factors. Strengths, Weaknesses, Value, Output and then assets and resources. Fan base is one, with attendance another key metric. A case-by-case basis might view each team differently–but ultimately, the judgement must be seen as considerate of the best interests of the competition.

You cannot underrate a team. The results from Thursday last will reinforce that. The Perth-based team were not expected to trouble the fancied Reds, yet the score read 26-19. How? Because rugby is about heart. It is not a game won on paper. And while the calculators might be used at the SANZAAR meeting, they will find it hard to value the rugbyunited values that are holding the Western Force franchise together.

LWOR writer Chris Duffy noted “With the Force in dire straits over their financial situation, they have made the decision to form the Western Force Owners Pty Ltd. This is in a bid to engage the community to help keep the Force financially stable whilst supporters have a say in how the franchise is run.”

He related that “this private investor model has been successful for many football (soccer) clubs around the world including Barcelona, all of the German top flight clubs; and on a smaller scale, FC United of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon. The engagement with the community that resounds from these owner models is potentially exactly what rugby in Australia needs.”

Economic Factors Cannot Replace Rugby Spirit

“Economically I doubt the ARU could afford to do it,” Andrew Cox said, when asked if he believed the Rebels would be culled from Australian Super Rugby teams. “We’ve got stadium deals, new facilities we’ve invested a lot of money in and there’s significant issues with that,” he told

In essence what Cox and the Western Force investors will tell you, is that it is more about spirit than number-crunching. He stated that “it’s got to come back to ‘Is the sole purpose of the Super Rugby comp in Australia to provide players for the Wallabies?’.” A valid point – what is the mission statement for Super Rugby?

When examining the three rugby teams, you can look at their websites, and all three will speak of the values and goals of the franchise. Development, representing the region and playing with pride. Conversely, when you view the Super Rugby, or SANZAAR sites, you read little of the morals of the game. It reads ‘Super Rugby is the preeminent professional men’s rugby union football competition in the Southern Hemisphere and Japan.

You hope that when all the highly paid chief executives meet, they think on many levels. The health of the game, the delivery of more than just a product to the fans–it needs to hold an emotion. If one of the Australian Super Rugby teams, or any of the other existing teams are axed under the ‘new model’ that they think very hard about it.

For many, the game is about more than just numbers on a sheet. The love of rugby will always be the key to any popular competition–no matter how valuable the television broadcast rights deal is.

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