It’s been a long offseason for Australian rugby and Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle hopes the start of a new season can change the conversation.
Last year’s season was one all teams and officials have been quick to try and move on from, and Castle said the mark of a new season was a return to focus on what happens on the field.
"That's the bit that's been difficult, it's been a tumultuous 12 months and I think all rugby fans recognise that there was some challenges in that process but what they want to talk about is rugby,” she said, at Sunday’s Super Rugby launch.
“They don't want to talk about administrative off-field issues, they want to talk about good quality rugby and we've certainly got some great combinations and new stories to start those conversations.”The Wallabies’ series against Ireland is less than four months away and Castle emphasised the importance of the provincial competition in that process.
“For our high-profile international rugby, Super Rugby's where it starts,” she said.
“That's where people get excited, where we unlock new stars, that's where we start to see the debates, the controversies and all of the things that drive that really positive media and I think there's new stars that pop out every year that create that uncertainty around Wallabies selection time because they’re going, 'Is it going to be the same team or has someone held their hand up enough?’.
“If you can get that public momentum through, where everyone’s been behind their Super teams, it’s just such a much stronger building block as you move into the Wallabies season.”
Super Rugby returns to 15 teams in 2018, with three conferences and a tweaked finals system.
The winners of each conference will automatically qualify for the quarter-finals, with the next five teams across all conferences also through, as wildcards.Wallabies and Waratahs skipper Michael Hooper welcomed the return of more local derbies, with teams guaranteed home and away matches against Aussie teams, something lacking in recent years, though their first derby doesn’t come until round four against the Rebels.
“It's great that we get to play the Aussie teams again, interesting to see how it's received by the public,” he said.
“It's a bit of a shame that we go straight overseas and can't give the fans other than that Stormers game a real nice introduction but we'll be home for the back end and a lot of it.”
The Australian Super Rugby season kicks off on Friday February 23 with the Rebels hosting the Reds.