Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008...11:59 am

Warning – ARU CEO John ONeill

Jump to Comments

You may think the most dangerous thing in southern hemisphere rugby over the last 20 years was Jona Lomu running down a touchline. Wrong, there is something more ferocious and that is a rugby administrator trying to capture the glory days after his union posted a $7 MIL AUD loss for the 2007 year. John ONeill is possibly the most destructive force in world rugby. Why, he is determined to compete with ARL and NFL in Australia. To do this he needs a game that can be sold to the fans that watch these other games. Rugby in its current form is not pulling these fans away from AFL/NRL. So if you can’t beat them join them. Hence the current ELVs will be the yellow brick road to a hybrid rugby union/league game. The famed coach of the Queensland Broncos, Wayne Bennett agrees that a hybrid game between union and league would be a very real possibility. Rugby league coaches are seeing that union is moving closer to league, so why cant the IRB.

Domestic Australian rugby has no viable national competition like the Air New Zealand cup or Curry Cup. The losses suffered by the ARU have been due to the failed national club competition and paying former rugby league players very high salaries. The real truth about Australian rugby is that in the 1990s it punched very high above its weight, and received the appropriate accolades. But the ARU player depth has been eroded by the smarter AFL/NFL unions getting into high schools and pushing rugby out. There is only one government school in Sydney playing rugby union (and they get thrashed every week), rugby union is played by mostly by private (non government) schools. So I am afraid ARU is not a union like New Zealand, England, France or South Africa, so how can it expect to have the same base as these other unions. The John ONeill growth plan is to bring other unions down to its level by touting a ‘bigger market’, TV revenues, the need to ‘progress’ or freshen up for the modern demands of the viewing fan. You must be able to smell the spin, by now!

We have heard proposals from John ONeill for a 26 week Super 16 competition. ARU can only see growth in there playing base by introducing more Australian teams into the Super rugby mix. So the super rugby competition is finally a mirror of the NRL or AFL. This of course would destroy the quality domestic competitions in New Zealand and South Africa. This is of no concern to John.

So why is a domestic rugby competition like the Air New Zealand Cup worth defending in a professional rugby world?

1)      By default the Super 14 rugby teams from New Zealand were awarded to the larger economic geographic areas. The Air NZ Cup allows the Super rugby unions to defend there super rugby status against the non super rugby unions. The Air NZ cup in 2007 saw Hawkes Bay in the finals. Sending a wake up call the super rugby unions. God forbid if they had won the grand final. Go the bay!

2)      The fact that super rugby unions must travel to non super rugby unions keeps the local interest in the game very much at the front of the queue. New Zealand very strong rugby base is in high school rugby (both government and non government schools play the game religiously), failure to have national games at the local union allow a door open for other codes. Take your rugby base for granted and over time you will see it destroyed. (Attention Mr S Tew – CEO NZRFU).

3)      The Air New Zealand Cup will remain profitable if the game is managed correctly. In New Zealand playing night games in the south between June and August is just not inviting attractive rugby viewing on TV, yet it’s a policy that is still pursed as TV broadcasting insists upon it. Maybe the broadcasters never played the game, maybe the union needs to take a cut in revenue to see that the game is supporting by the local New Zealand fan and not a Welsh fan having his breakfast cornflakes in Cardiff. The point is that quality always becomes before quantity.

But, I believe we will see in NZ and South Africa the demise of the domestic provincial competitions. I think we will see a longer Super rugby season, followed by the international season. I can see the creation of an amateur competition underneath the professional competition, very much like the minors and majors in professional sport in the USA. I guess I will be dragged kicking and screaming into this new world, as this is the only way a rugby season can be reduced from 11 months to (say) 9 months.  This will also give the much needed ‘international window’ a chance to work.

The New Zealand rugby union is about to post a very large loss for 2007. Due to a failed expansion of the Air New Zealand cup, failed RWC effort, failed Super 14 in 2007. We are now playing ARU vs NZRFU in Hong Kong for cash. I guess we can expect more financially motivated decisions.

UPDATE: The NZRFU posted a loss of $1.7 MIL. This loss was limited by forex hedging. Makes me wonder why the original Adidas deal was not done in NZD, hm ?