Looking at the Super Rugby ladder after seven rounds, you might be inclined to think the battle for international bragging rights is well and truly in New Zealand’s corner.
New Zealand’s sides sit generally on top and just two Australian sides have managed a win over their trans-Tasman rivals this season.
Wallabies fans need not lose hope, though, for Super Rugby form is not a true barometer of international success.
It could be argued that the strongest provincial competition anywhere in the world to date was the Super 12.
This consisted of five New Zealand Teams, four South African teams and only three Australian teams.
‘So what?’ some people might say.
Well, compare that to today’s Super Rugby competition where there are now six South African teams, five Australian teams but still only five New Zealand teams.
Expansion from a 12 to 18 teams has had a huge impact on both South Africa and Australia, compared to New Zealand.
Now let’s spend some time breaking it down a little further. The extra two Australian teams mean finding another 60 professional rugby players, or a 67 per cent growth.
The strength of the Australian Dollar over the last decade has certainly stemmed the outward flow of professional rugby players from Australia, but as it has weakened, trends have gone the other way and eligibility laws have loosened.
Rich, overseas stints have become far more attractive for our leading Wallabies and the fringe players who can now earn a greater amount elsewhere.
This trend coupled with a higher local demand for players was always going to hurt the depth of Australian talent available for Super Rugby franchises.
The situation in South Africa is even more difficult for their provincial teams, with their team numbers increasing from four to six and their eligibility laws even looser than Australia’s.
Any South African player playing anywhere in the world is eligible to be selected for the Springboks.
When this is coupled with the extremely weak South African Rand, of course the majority of the highest earners are going to be investigating offshore offers.
So when the need for professional rugby players in South Africa increases by 50 per cent and richer contracts are on offer overseas, it is of no surprise to me that the six South African provinces are not as strong as they should be.
On the other hand, New Zealand’s structure has been relatively unchanged for the better part of two decades, giving them the luxury of building academies and a pathway for these teams since the late 1990s.
As well, if you want to be an All Black, you must be playing Super Rugby, so they have greater depth to draw on.
This is not encouraging for all the provincial teams within Australia and South Africa however when the Rugby Championship begins, the national teams will be a completely different story.
The playing field is levelled when it comes to these international competitions, where every team can only draw on a 31-man squad.
We saw in last year’s Rugby World Cup how competitive Australia is on the world stage and plenty of those players came out of teams that didn’t light up Super Rugby.
So, while things might look dire right now, it will be the Test windows that show where Australia truly sits.
From 1999 through until the end of 2011 Waugh earned 79 Test caps for the Wallabies (3 as Captain) and 136 caps (58 as captain) with Waratahs.
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.