Western Force invite teams for World Series Rugby challenge

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Western Force invite teams for World Series Rugby challenge
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 08: Former Force captain Matt Hodgson looks on as incoming Chairman of Rugby WA, John Edwards speak to the media during a Future of Rugby WA Press Conference at RugbyWA Headquarters on December 8, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

Announced in the last fortnight, the former Super Rugby franchise the Western Force have announced an invitational series of matches. To be played from May this year, the World Series Rugby challenge is a new innovation that will pitch the West Australian side against some of the best sides across the Indo-Pacific/Australasian region.

Launched by billionaire miner Andrew Forrest, the new ‘World Series’ is to be played over a schedule of dates at nib Stadium in Perth. It is being organised by former Super Rugby team captain Matt Hodgson, the Western Force Elite Performance Manager. The series is a bid to retain much of the dispossessed fan base.

“This series offers a strong future for rugby in Western Australia,” Hodgson told Planet Rugby. “The Western Force are a quality outfit that have attracted interest from some of the best teams in our region.

When World Series Rugby dates begin in May, it is in fact an ideal period within the mid-winter International window. A time with a lack of regular fixtures; from late May until early August. This provides West Australian and invited teams’ fans more options to enjoy rugby union at a time where others struggle to find competition.

Teams invited are:

  • Hosts – Western Force
  • Crusaders
  • Melbourne Rebels
  • Fiji
  • Tonga
  • Samoa
  • Hong Kong
  • and a Japanese team (to be confirmed)

World Series Rugby matches former Super Rugby rivals

Crusaders fans may have been concerned to hear that their side was considering a match offshore, but they should be more considerate. The World Rugby Series rewards are two-fold.

If supporters look at the dateline, they will see that June falls inside the window where players are ‘idle’. While Scott Robertson’s representatives are occupied with national duties, the Crusader franchise still has a group that requires competition (to stay on form). On June 22, what better way to achieve that, than a match against a former Super Rugby foe.

Excluding All Blacks players, who might be involved in the French Test Series preparations aside, expect men like Mitchell Drummond (pictured) and Ethan Blackadder to be in the tour party. The coaching team will want to take every available man, consider injuries and workload, before signing the team sheets for the Western Force’s match.

Secondly, and an aspect that an well managed operation like the Crusaders is well aware of, are ‘commercial opportunities’. For the Western Force, inviting these seven teams to play them, it is easy to assume that all travel costs would be provided for. Accommodation will be offered, as would hospitality costs. Dare we say, some may even negotiate ‘appearance fees’.

So on a business sense, during a break in Super Rugby, for teams like the Melbourne Rebels and the ‘Saders, there are benefits in attending. Calculate those costs to Fiji, Tonga or Samoa Rugby, and the benefits are quadrupled. Plus, a feature match against the Western Force would be fantastic preparations for those sides in the Pacific Nations Cup.

For Hong Kong and the ‘to be confirmed’ Japanese team, the benefits are priceless. Both in exposure to competition, and to engage with other teams and nations, exchanging rugby knowledge.

New Innovative Concept by Western Force backers

An innovative concept; both as an outlet for ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and his West Australian rugby backers, but also to break new ground in Rugby. That includes bringing fans an exciting product; focused on rewarding tries. Dramatic new rules, including a try possibly being worth 10 points. There is also talk of a limited time frame for scrums and lineouts.

Former Wallabies great Michael Lynagh; who is serving as an adviser, believed an innovative revamp would make the game “faster and more exciting”.

“We want to keep the ball in play and really reward the skills.”

“If we have to change the game then let’s do that because it is a competitive environment here in Australia with all the other sports.”

The other unique aspect of the sporting venture, is the invitation and reward element. With the mix of International, regional and Super Rugby teams, the ‘value’ in traveling to the WSR fixtures, might modernize the business model of the long established invitational tournament.

Western Force invites teams for World Series Rugby challenge

As much as the concept is a new innovation on an established tradition, the host and the conditions do hold some questions. When reading and discussing the proposition, Last Word on Rugby found some valid questions.

Questions around the 10 point tries, include ‘why do fans want a 60 or 70 point scoreline?’ Will fans respect the prospect that a 20 point lead can be halved, in one scoring play. While a change, is it entirely necessary? Might a ‘bonus point’ for scoring under the points be a plausible reward.

How well prepared will the hosts be? 11 former squad members have been re-signed, plus feature players like Peter Grant, Ian Prior, former Springbok Jaque Fourie. “The squad has an important spread of youth and experience and we are delighted that the players have committed to the club,” Head Coach Tim Sampson said.

Olympic gold medallist Masivesi Dakuwaqa, who returns to union after a year with the Canberra Raiders, is another marque name. And it will be interesting to see how the team culled by SANZAAR handle the return to competition. Only missing for a matter of months since the end of 2017, but it is the regular match play that Sampson must develop.

And ‘how much?’ Does Twiggy Morgan have the financial clout to write cheques, but what is the limit to his spending? Can he support the World Rugby Series for one year, will he promote the Indo-Pacific competition for only as long as it suits his bank balance?

All questions, but also a compliment. For at least the Western Force are attempting to retain the relationship with the game. To engage with both their fans, and opposition. Not content to sit ‘idle’ and not prepared to fold. A strong will to continue, and that is to be commended.

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The World Rugby Series schedule begins on May 4 v Fiji; May 13 v Tonga; June 9 v Rebels; June 22 v Crusaders; July 13 v Samoa; Aug 10 v Hong Kong; Aug 17 TBA

 

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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