How do you talk up a new rugby competition in which there’s not much interest? Talk about new rules instead.
That’s pretty much what happened with the official launch of the Australian Rugby Championship yesterday and it worked. Well, there’s not much else anyone wants to say about the ARC.
The alternative is an analysis of the extremely difficult task ahead in generating much interest in the ARC beyond the players and their friends and family.
The ARC – an eight-round competition starting next month for newly-created teams from Brisbane, the Gold Coast, NSW’s cental coast, eastern and western Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth – is kicking off at a particularly inauspicious time for attracting rugby rear ends to seating.
The ARU is trying the line of “see tomorrow’s Wallabies today” but not too many folks have been interested in seeing current Wallabies this year. The poor performances of NSW and Queensland meant miserable Super 14 crowds, the Australia A matches were embarrassments and there have been plenty of spare seats at the Wallabies’ matches.
And now the ARU is hoping the punters will suddenly turn out to watch concocted teams in what effectively is the fourth-tier of Australian rugby. (We’ll ignore our 7s involvement – just about everyone else does.)
There’s also the little matter of the competition running during something called the Rugby World Cup which means the hard-core fans who can afford to go will be out of the country while the rest of us get our fix on the box in the wee small hours.
So let’s talk up the use of the experimental Stellenbosch rules that should result in fewer scrums and penalties – noble aims. When faced with such a fabulous Ballymore warrior as David Croft suddenly representing Melbourne, there’s no point trying to appeal to traditional tribalism.
The ARC is supposed to be about the longer-term development of players in a professional competition to bridge the gap between club and Super 14. John O’Neill is in the fortunate position of inheriting the thing upon his return as CEO, so he can continue to do his best towards making it work while not suffering too much if it fails.
And there is always the superior idea mooted by Simon Poidevin – beg the Kiwis to let us joint their National Provincial Championship. Then we might also learn the way rugby should be played.