Heading back to the future will increase depth of Aus rugby
I RECEIVED a fair bit of feedback via Twitter on my last column concerning the quality of the Australian Super Rugby conference.
So please allow me to expand.
The primary reason why the Aussie conference lags behind the Kiwi conference, for mine, falls with a true lack of depth in our code.
Australia's rugby market is small in any way you want to compare it, whether it's financial or human resources.
It has always been that way. And it will be so for the immediate future.
But, and this is a massive but, we are growing our human resources, in numbers and in quality. And Super Rugby is playing its part.
We've gone from pre-Super rugby days of having only two strong provincial teams (QLD and NSW) to now having three strong Super Rugby teams - Reds, Tahs and the Brumbies.
Now, while the Tahs are not there just yet, I see plenty of positives in their team and organisation.
So I'm confident in my belief that we've grown from having 42 (two teams of 21) international-quality players to now having around 70ish (three teams of 22, and a sprinkling of others).
That's a massive improvement.
But it's just not, comparatively speaking, enough at the moment.
That means that instead of only having two true-quality halfbacks, for example, we now have between five and six.
And that's very positive growth, I believe.
But (and here's the growth challenge for Aussie rugby as I see it), unless we can develop the tier of players between club and Super Rugby, we'll plateau around that 66 number for the next five-to-10 years.
The Super Rugby structure with five teams per conference, is doing its bit, but we must firm up our development of players in the chasm between club rugby and Super Rugby.
Academies and the like play a role, but I believe we need to form some legitimate and viable playing opportunity for this group.
And for mine, the way forward is to go back-to-the-future.
And that means more competition against New Zealand opposition.
It was identified back in the mid-to-late 70's (from memory) by the QRU that the only way for Queensland rugby to improve was to play against the best, and that meant frequent trips across the ditch (and vice-versa) to play NZ provincial teams.
It worked then, and it will work now. I'd be investigating ways we can get our five Super Rugby teams to play in the Kiwi ITM Cup.
Quite possibly that's easier said than done. But it's a back-to-the-future way forward I know will work.
No matter what growth strategy is undertaken, unless we develop that group of players between club and Super Rugby, the Aussie conference will continue to be the poor cousin of the Super competition.