I’ve written at length about Australia’s rich sporting tapestry in the past. As a nation of sports enthusiasts, Australians will watch just about anything if it’s competitive. From motor racing to Australian Rules, cricket, swimming or lawn bowls, fans will turn up and tune in to support their local team or the Green & Gold in action. One sport that has noticeably slipped in terms of performance on the international stage recently is rugby union. Once a powerhouse nation, now Australia has lost their dominance on the world stage and, although they are still a top-tier rugby nation, their slide down the world rankings is cause for concern among the sport’s fans and administrators.
For many years, the national team is selected largely from the country’s top five teams competing in the Super Rugby championship. However, the top five are set to be reduced to four as the governing body intends to cut loose less competitive sides to strengthen the competition. And Australia is not alone, South Africa, also suffering a similar crisis in this field, are set to lose two sides from their six. While increasing the competition will most probably bring the level of the game back up, Australia rugby administrators have additional concerns to tackle. Rugby just isn’t pulling the numbers it used to. Crowd numbers and viewer ratings are down compared to the past, as football, Australian Rules and rugby league are preying on rugby’s market share and player base.
Tackling the Problem at Its Core
Grassroots infrastructure and systems are much stronger and more established in rugby league. Promising rugby union players are identified and regularly poached by the competing code, and even in the traditional bases of Sydney and Brisbane, the game is dying out. When the national side is no longer the force it used to be, and provincial sides are dominated by their New Zealand neighbors in Super Rugby competitions, viewers tune out and the popularity of the sport declines. It’s going to be tough to arrest the slide in Australian rugby and without a significant change in fortunes the game may become a second tier sport nationally.