The score is Australia 0 New Zealand 25. No, that is not a match scoreline, but the win/loss record for Australian Super Rugby franchises. Zero victories, and the proof is hard to swallow for the Australian Rugby Union (ARU).
ARU chief executive Bill Pulver (see main picture) is a man on tenterhooks. Not only have the five Australian Super Rugby franchises had their worst ever performance record against New Zealand sides, but his union is under intense pressure itself.
Australia's 5 #SuperRugby franchises go winless against New Zealand opposition throughout 2017 reg season.
With the game under scrutiny, the 0-25 ratio makes for poor reading. Add to that the fact that the ARU are still to publicly name the side which will be exiled from Super Rugby in 2018…..the CEO could be forgiven for not seeing the sun over the horizon.
Pulver has already offered to step down at an extraordinary general meeting, but that was not accepted. So many will feel that the head of the ARU has an eye on the door. That is not the behaviour of a man who is required to improve the fortunes of the Aussie-game.
Poor Perfomance of ARU Impacts Australian Super Rugby Franchises
Pulver is now a less than popular figure. While his commercial responsibilities continue, with new partnerships with Crestron and extended sponsorship from Sydney Airport of the Women’s Sevens team. Both good for the organization, but externally the ARU suffers from an unpopular sentiment with its key stakeholders.
Chairman Cameron Clyne is also seen as being ineffective, in that his vision for the game is floundering. At it’s grassroots, the sports participation had reduced over time. Even considering positive measures like VIVA 7’s and the NRC (National Rugby Championship) the only real growth area is in Sevens. The Sydney leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series is one of the most popular, and the women’s team are holders of the Olympic gold medal.
Off the field, the issues seem to be in the games relationship with the supporters and franchise owners. With private investment in several teams under the microscope, it makes the deliberation more difficult. Rugby clubs and the seven rugby unions must feel that with all their efforts, the national representative body is failing them. The public empathy has swelled, in relation to the Super Rugby franchise fiasco.
Off Field Issues Paired With Poor Placing’s in Super Rugby
If ever an example was shown of the poor performance from the on-field side, it is from the Waratahs. With only four wins, their points difference led to on average 33 points being given away. That reflects the poor performance of the ARU executive, who announced in April that one of two sides would be culled–only to fluff the public relations, and alienate both Super Rugby franchises and supporters.
Coincidentally, the two sides identified as options to be ‘culled’ are the Western Force and the Melbourne Rebels. The Force have now returned a better than average record, to finish second in the Australian Super Rugby conference. They even won five matches since being informed of their uncertain future. It seemed to motivate the team to some meritorious results.
Western Force Finish Second on Table – How Can They be Removed?
Most rugby fans will ask ‘how can the Force be removed now?’ And while that is a relative question, the recent performance by the Force does not match their recent years of results in the competition. Since before the increase in Super Rugby from 2016, the Western Australian team had a less than glamorous record.
Previously, research from Last Word on Rugby has proved that the Perth-based side had the poorest record of all five Australian Super Rugby franchises. Some teams are under achievers–the Force would be included here–while others maybe seen as underrated. What others see as the current form, may still be only a short term window.
But assisting the Force’s chance of being retained is the growth of the game in Western Australia and the number of players from the Force to bolster the Wallabies. Foundation player Matt Hodgson being one, plus their brightest star Dane Haylett-Petty. Each has been instrumental in assisting the Force to their best placing in Super Rugby for many years. Their best ever season was in 2007, when they finished in seventh position overall, so finishing as the second best Aussie side is a positive return.
Note: The Force (Western Force) were added to Super Rugby in 2006.
The Melbourne Rebels on the other hand have been hugely disappointing from game one–an 18-56 drubbing. Little has improved, with a one win, one draw record….sitting at the very bottom of Super Rugby in 2017.
Note: The Melbourne Rebels were added to Super Rugby in 2011.
Australian Super Rugby Table Only Reflects a Portion of Performance
While the ACT Brumbies will host a home quarter-final, it is more due to the conference system, and less than based on credit. With only six victories, their haul of victories is less than other sides not included in the finals series.
And while the system provides a ‘security blanket’ for Australian Super Rugby, the public know that something is wrong. That will be made especially clear if; like in 2016, the Canberra-based side are eliminated early from the finals series.
So while the Force and Rebels are in the firing line, many have made suggestions on alternatives. This includes combining Melbourne with the ACT side, demoting one side down to the NRC and creating a promotion/relegation system for the Australian conference.
What truly needs to happen must be directed from the drivers of the ARU. Every indication is that they are in a ‘wait and see’ stage. Waiting for the right time, seeing if there are any impediments to making the final decision–and all indications are, that lawyers representing each franchise are ready to challenge any and all decisions.
Australian Rugby Players Association at Loggerheads with ARU
If the administration already had enough ‘damage control’ to perform, they also are at loggerheads with the players association. The RUPA (The Rugby Union Players’ Association) is representative of all players rights, as well as upholding the interests of fans too.
Since the announcement in April, the RUPA have been vocal in their dislike of the indecisive actions of the ARU. And while a SANZAAR direction might have required Australian Super Rugby to make a tough decision, it’s handling has been poor at best.
In time, the men responsible for the final decision; the ARU board and operations team, will communicate that choice with the RUPA. The best guess is that the two parties will disagree over the choice. And while a public announcement will ultimately see Bill Pulver call out one franchises name or the other, it will face litigation.
While that call is yet to be declared, the actions and performance of both ARU and the teams is below average.
If this trend against NZ sides applies to the Wallabies, then the upcoming Rugby Championship may be a difficult challenge.
And for the betterment of the game in Australia, stakeholders will hope that the major issues facing the organization can be corrected–without further damage to the image and reputation of Australian rugby.
There will be tough times ahead, and the horrible aggregate of zero wins for Australian Super Rugby franchises over New Zealand sides, will only make the mountain look higher.
“Main photo credit”