Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle has revealed plans to target public schools and capture Australia's best schoolboy talent as pressure from the nation's two major football codes intensifies.
Castle penned an op-ed piece in The Australian on Friday, detailing a plan to rebuild the identity of rugby in Australia.
In the piece, Castle highlighted the recent poor performances of Australia's Super Rugby clubs as a major front facing issue which has long dominated the narrative and left many fans disheartened.
And while all parties involved in the top level of Australian rugby are desperate to snap the trans-Tasman streak, reclaim the Bledisloe Cup and generate some much needed positivity as a result, Castle pointed to the nation's talent pool as an area which the code must immediately address in order to ensure long term success.
"For rugby to remain relevant in a congested sporting market, it is important there are multiple ways that people can engage with the game and there are participation options for new entrants picking up a rugby ball for the first time," Castle said."Where we are targeting these new entrants is public schools, where our Get Into Rugby (formerly Game On) program has seen more than 70,000 kids experience rugby for the first time since the beginning of 2017, including no less than 5000 indigenous children.
"Significantly, 68 per cent of these students have been from government schools, and 40 per cent are girls."
Castle also highlighted the need to strengthen the relationship between clubs and schools.
"To support this, we are investing further in growing our development workforce to connect these school participants with clubs," she said.
"Rugby is facing aggressive competition in this area from other footy codes, so it is important that our product is appealing and the message to students about our game is a positive one."
Queensland's AIC schools announcing that they will be trialling AFL and rugby league competitions for the next two years underlined the need to capture the best talent from rugby's traditional heartlands, a topic Castle is passionate about."The challenge of keeping our most talented schoolboy players in the game is not a new phenomenon but is an area of focus given the increased pressure from well-resourced rival codes," she said.
"We are reviewing our contracting system specifically to address this issue and will announce some changes in this area shortly, all designed to ensure our top-priority talent remain in our game after school and have opportunities to experience off-field development and on-field success."
Castle finished by pointing to a few positives which, she hopes, will provide a platform for sustainable success moving forward.
"We are taking advantage of the global strength of rugby through a new international strategy to capitalise on the fact that our national teams spend more time out of Australia, playing in our major trade and export hubs," she said.
"We will bid aggressively to win the rights to host the 2021 Women’s World Cup and 2027 Rugby World Cup. Securing these pinnacle events will drive participation, engage new fans and importantly, create new revenue for our game.
"And we will work harder at developing and keeping our most talented players through the implementation of the national schools strategy and new contracting initiatives.
"The challenges rugby faces are well documented and widely debated but I believe there is much to be positive about and many of the building blocks are in place to take these challenges head on."