Rugby Australia will have to make the impossible decision now

It was another weekend of disappointing results across the board of Super Rugby Pacific.

It seems like an eternity since the Wartara crushed the Crusaders, the Brumbeys pushed the Cannes and pushed a Reds B-side chiefs all the way, a whole weekend.

Fans in and around Australia were overwhelmed as they dared to dream that Bladeslow might come to the country in the near future.

Yet it seems like another false dawn for Australian rugby, as the Aussies have fallen into all but one game. It was in Waikato where Brumbis had been performing since 2013.

Once again, the teams are starting to plan for next year.

This slide of results is not due to lack of effort or inability to play high-intensity footy, but rather a by-product of injuries to key teams, in key positions, who suffer in critical moments as a result.

And while we can stand here and claim that the system should have enough depth to compensate for this loss of fire power, sometimes it is not possible.

Oli Norris of the Chiefs runs with the ball during a Round 13 Super Rugby Pacific match between the Melbourne Rebels and the Chiefs at AAMI Park on May 15, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Graham Denhom / Getty Images)

(Photo by Graham Denhom / Getty Images)

Five Super Rugby teams are not readily available for Australia. Our depth is not enough to make up for the loss of marquee players to our franchise.

Let’s use the Queensland Reds as an example.

Before losing to James O’Connor in the Super Round lead-up, the Reds felt like a real title threat.

They played high octane rugby and led the race at line breaks, sitting in the top three for try and run meters and losing just one game out of eight.

But their form slips at the rate of playmaker.

Well, in fact, the Reds have entered the free fall. Despite O’Connor’s return, they are now seventh on the ladder after a 27-point push at Eden Park and face the possibility of being knocked out of the quarter-finals.

Brumbies begin to feel very pinched. Just hours after losing to Noah Lolesio and Rob Valetini, the top Aussie team surrendered to the Crusaders.

Although looking at the scoreboard it seemed like it was a tough competition, the Brumbiras were never in it.

Rod Eunar had a performance that you would expect from a rookie ten in a game in which he struggled to get involved, made sub-standard errors and lacked the vision of Lolesio despite being eight years older.

Varatahra lost to Michael Hooper in an injury, but his absence was one of leadership and experience, rather than a loss of skill-set that their teams had to spend.

Each of these players must be replaceable at any time. The number two man in a team must be equal to number one.

How do you do that

Unfortunately, the number of Super Rugby parties could drop to four again.

The move could flood the remaining franchises with talent and lifting depth and overall performance across the board. Sadly, the party that should be cut is very clear: the rebels.

Matt Tomua of the rebels makes a gesture towards the crowd.

(Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / Getty Images)

The rebels have struggled since joining the competition. They have fought on and off the field, making only one final series (including a Super Rugby AU A) and failing to register a profit in nine of their 11 seasons.

Victoria is also notorious for buying talent instead of producing their own, only four of the 15 starters in Round 13 grew up in Victoria, having been there before the age of 15.

They are constantly paid to set up a team. This means they are not contributing enough to Australia’s path, but rather scrapping the NSW and Queensland scraps (which the Brumbies did not pick up) a second chance at a career.

Although you cannot blame the rebel organization for this.

With the AFL completely and utterly dominating the state, rugby is rarely noticed. This lack of interest in attendance (average 5679 in the last 12 months) and TV ratings (lowest average in Australia in 9GEM; stan sport statistics unavailable) have decreased.

So yes, the norm in Australia is to have as many franchises as possible, winning is a priority and if a powerhouse like Storm is still fighting for a place in Melbourne’s Sporting Market, the one-time semifinalist rebels have no chance of breaking the barrier in Victoria.

Also, the problem will never be the performance of the rebels, it is the unfairly high standards expected of them that will make them fail.

Now you ask: what would it be like to have super rugby teams without a rebel?

Here’s what I came up with. These lists show that some of the main rebel players are divided into the remaining four.

Jordan Ulysses, Matt Philip, Carter Gordon

Ponne Fa’moussili, Michael Wells, Andrew Callaway (fullback)

Western forces
Reese Witherspoon, Rob Leota, Brad Wilken

Matt To’omua, Stacey Eli, Richard Hardwick

Imagine if these teams could compete to start spotting these players or the bench could stop getting power out week after week. Depth will no longer be a problem.

With the elimination of Rugby Australia Melbourne, the company will save millions of dollars annually and see performance improvements at the highest level.

This money can be reinvested in the grassroots and help us bring the game back to its glorious days.

So while the decision is brutal and, frankly, less than ideal, four Super Rugby parties can be better than five.

Springboks prop Frans Malherbe joined Roar rugby expert Brett McKay and Harry Jones to talk about the story of his unusual rugby origins, the United Rugby Championships coming out of Super Rugby, and what surprised him at the call of an expert scrum referee from Rossi Erasmus.

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