In an exciting development the National Rugby Championship was launched earlier in the week and will provide another layer of development for the code in Australia. Qantas Wallabies Head Coach Ewen McKenzie discusses the competition and its impact on Rugby development in the country.
ARU: What is your take on the new competition?
Ewen: It’s an extremely positive concept that will have broad appeal to the Rugby community and which will also address the need for another tier in our code. One of the things which excites me the most is that it gives us a real opportunity to do and think differently about things. We’re also looking for new ways to engage our fan base and that will be one of the major focuses once the competition begins.
From a purely Rugby perspective it’s going to have a huge positive influence on the way players arrive into Super Rugby. Creating another level of the ‘pyramid’ where our best non-Wallaby players are getting exposed to high-level Rugby is only going to improve the all-round standard of play. The reality is being in a professional environment is a hugely different to playing at a club level so the more players you have playing at the highest level possible the better.
It can also have huge commercial benefits and already we’ve taken a positive step forward by having Fox Sports broadcast at least one game per week. The financial ramifications of that are significant and we’re already seeing a lot of organisations express their interests in becoming involved with each of the clubs. Rugby has always generated a lot of corporate interest but some organisations are unable to commit to the requirements at a Super Rugby level. The NRC now gives those stakeholders an opportunity to get involved at the level below, ultimately bringing more revenue and support into our game.
ARU: You mention the opportunity for new fan engagement. Can you elaborate?
Ewen: I mentioned before that one of the things which excites me the most was the opportunity the NRC would bring in doing things differently. Fan engagement will be front and centre to this as it’s important that every interaction our fans have with the NRC is a positive one.
Already they’re some innovative ideas being discussed around the experience of gameday and we’re looking forward to seeing what the clubs can offer in making each game a special event.
We’ve also got the benefit of the competition running predominantly outside of any other major competition window. With the other winter code’s seasons coming to an end we have a bracket where Rugby can be in the spotlight for both the Wallabies and NRC competition. There are many strong promotional opportunities associated with that.
Another positive for our fans is the regional exposure of the competition and our supporters outside of Australia’s main cities being able to regularly watch and follow our best players. Rugby is in a position where it needs to grow its supporter base and club rugby is often the heartbeat of many rural towns.
ARU: Are there any other unique benefits you can see from the launch of the NRC?
Ewen: The majority of attention goes to the pathway being provided to players but the NRC will also be of huge long-term benefit to coaches and support staff involved within the game. Succession planning and personal development is crucial in any business or sport and it will be good to track the progress of up-and-coming coaching and management staff in Rugby.