Super Rugby agreement a step forward for Australian rugby

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Wallabies coaching structure was, rightly, the focus of Rugby Australia’s announcement on Monday but a formal agreement between the Super Rugby clubs and Wallabies could prove equally pivotal.

The Australian Super Rugby franchises have previously agreed to share fitness data but this is the first time that they have formally committed to working with the national body in a number of ways.

New director of rugby Scott Johnson will do a lot of the work around the specifics of the program but it is expected it will involve elements including the resting of star players, something that has been discussed with the franchises in recent months.

While it might not seem a significant step on the surface, it is the biggest stride Australia has made towards following the more united models of other countries in the rugby landscape.

The agreement in principle comes off the back of work between Rugby Au and the franchises to align on a number of areas in the past year, especially.

It’s a move that will feel like a long time coming for Wallabies fans who have watched New Zealand’s Test and Super Rugby success and the meteoric progress of Ireland more recently.

Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle said the process wouldn’t necessarily be smooth sailing but pointed across the ditch to show the benefits of a shared system.

“This is a model that's proved to work successfully in a number of countries, not least of which new Zealand, where the Super Rugby teams have come together and recognised that having this alignment allows them to grow, the sharing of information allows them to improve their performances as well as the performance of the national team,” she said.

“So, yes, we know there'll be robust conversation but that's the whole point is that we bring together the expertise right across the system and if we do that that will remain and see performances improve for everybody.”

Rugby AU chairman Cameron Clyne said Australia’s separately-owned state union structure had made it more difficult to follow the models used overseas in the past.

“We run a federated model, which is always a challenge, and the states are very proud,” he said.

“The states existed long before Rugby Australia did and the challenge in these models is ensuring that the teams play with individual character.

“The teams like to have that identity whether it be a Waratah, Brumby, Rebel or a Red.

“But I think it's taken time, there's been a number of attempts over the years to achieve greater alignment but I think full credit to Raelene, she's build trust with them to say, "Look, we need to get to this model.This is a proven model, it demonstrates success”.

“You also need to give them the confidence that someone's going to help with the alignment that actually understands how to do it.”

Clyne said the arrival of Johnson, who has led a similar structure in Scotland since 2013, was the beginning of a long-term approach to the national strategy. 

“I think what we're interested in is sustainable success,” he said.

“Obviously winning the World Cup next year will be really critical and we're obviously confident we can do that with the right program but what's clear today in sport is that only buys you support for a short period of time,” he said.

“What you need is sustainable success. We want to win the World Cup, then we want to win a Bledisloe, then we want to win Rugby Championships.

"The concern we've had is coaches have come and gone and a lot of the Intellectual property has gone with them.

“What we want to do is really institutionalise a lot of the key components of a rugby program and I think when you look around the world, the teams that are enjoying real success at the moment are those that are operating out of this model.

“Most notably, the Irish, which everyone's seen which is operating exactly on a model of director of rugby and a head coach reporting in. Scotland, but also the way New Zealand have managed to enjoy both Super Rugby success consistently and success of the All Blacks

“Hence why, future coaches at whatever point Michael ceases to be head coach, the next head coach will be reporting to the director of rugby so it starts to build us sustainable success.

“So much of the sentiment of rugby in this country is driven by the Wallabies.

"If the Wallabies aren't winning consistently, people perceive the game has an issue. The Wallabies need to win consistently and we believe this is the structure that will deliver that."