'We need each other, that's the reality": McKellar, Penney back trans-Tasman competition

Super Rugby - AU
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

They'll be going head-to-head on Saturday night but Dan McKellar and Rob Penney are united in their views that Australia needs to stand up for itself in discussions over Super Rugby's future.

Both coaches have backed the concept of a trans-Tasman competition and say it's time for the perception that Australia needs the Kiwis more than the other way around to change.

While SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos released a statement on Thursday morning trying to pour cold water on speculation that Super Rugby's administrative body was being "dismantled", there is a public appetite from Australia and New Zealand to look at other options at least when it comes to domestic rugby.

Reports out of New Zealand in recent weeks have suggested that Kiwi powerbrokers would support a trans-Tasman competition but only if Australia agreed to reduce its representation to as few as two teams.

In that model, other options would include bringing in a Pacific Island or a Japanese team instead of having five Australian teams.

Rugby AU chairman Hamish McLennan has hit back at some of those suggestions, describing the relationship with New Zealand as a 'master-servant' relationship.

Much of New Zealand's 'master' status comes from their recent on-field results over Australia and McKellar said it was time for Australia's teams to force that change. 

The Brumbies have been clearly the best Australian side in Super Rugby in recent years and this year beat the Chiefs across the ditch and lost just one match from their opening six games before the Super Rugby season was shut down.

"We can only comment on the Brumbies (when it comes to perceptions) and we went over there and beat the Chiefs earlier this year and we were really looking forward to going to Auckland and playing the Blues, they're an improved side," he told RUGBY.com.au.

"We want to play against the best and if you ask any of the New Zealand coaches, they certainly wouldn't be saying they're turning up to Canberra and expecting an easy outing or expect to show up and win. It's the same when we go over there - we're not going over there to come second.

"The reality is, though, over a period of time there was however many games where Australian teams didn't beat a New Zealand opponent so over that 18 months that perception was out there.

"We've got to continue to make sure our program and standard at the Brumbies is world class and we prepare our players and develop and compete and beat the best in the world, to change that perception."

Waratahs coach Rob Penney said Australia's top brass needed to ensure they stood up to New Zealand and ended with a competition model that worked for both countries.

"I hope the administrators here can stay strong in their fighting ability to make sure, and I'm sure they are, they're going to do what's the best for Australian rugby because you don't want to see New Zealand trying to force the hand too much without taking into consideration their neighbours over the Tasman," he said.

"There's lots of reasons why we need to have good strong relations with each other and I've said in the past, I think it wouldn't be good to have either group in isolation.

"We're very similar in time zones, we can add some great competitions down here if the rest of the world don't open up in the medium term, let's hope we can work together and have some greater competitions no matter what they are and they service the needs of both the countries as opposed to one totally trying to be the dominant figure."

McKellar has been open about his support of a trans-Tasman competition both for the ability to face Kiwi sides but also to ensure that Australian derbies don't lose their lustre.

"I'm a supporter of the trans-Tasman, it's a competition that we haven't actually seen before and it's a product that I think would be valued and have real appeal with the general public," he said.

"There's that tribalism between Australian and New Zealand teams already exists, Australians know the Crusaders, the Highlanders, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Blues but at the same time there's a tribalism and rivalry between the Australian teams.

"With just an Australian domestic competition, if we're playing the Tahs three or four times a year, does it lose its appeal? I think less is more here."

"The reality is they're special because they're rare events, it's a bit like State of Origin, there's only three of them.

If all of a sudden you went and started playing more, the question you have to ask is, 'Does the appeal lessen to an extent?'

"I think the best competition for both countries is trans-Tasman, we need each other that's the reality and we just need to the people in high places to come to an agreement about 2021 and what it looks like and I'm sure there's exciting times ahead.

"Everyone's aware of that, from Rob Clarke and Hamish McLennan down I'm sure, that decisions need to be made and time is creeping up on us very quickly."

Reds coach Brad Thorn was more ambivalent when asked his views on Thursday morning but said he broadly supported a trans-Tasman competition.

"I think there's people further up than me making those decisoins but I think a really strong competition, trans-Tasman," he said.

"They talked about opening up to Japanese teams, they've talked about maybe an Island team, I think all that stuff's exciting.

"I agree with what both sides are saying, we want a really strong competition and you want to have good rugby played, but it's one for me to stay out of really."

The Waratahs will play the Brumbies at ANZ Stadium on Saturday July 18, kicking off at 7:15pm AEST, LIVE on Foxtel, Foxtel Now and Kayo Sports. Buy a Kayo subscription here. Buy tickets here.