With the future of Australia’s domestic rugby competition still very much in limbo beyond 2020, Melbourne Rebels coach Dave Wessels has implored the country to dream big and work towards becoming the “IPL” of the rugby world.
Tensions are high either side of the ditch as both powerhouse rugby nations work towards what their domestic competitions look like in 2021’s COVID-19 world.
Those strains have been exacerbated following the release of New Zealand’s Aratipu Review, which - in the face of COVID-19 - encouraged a new 8-10 team trans-Tasman competition, including Pacifica involvement and, therefore, the possibility of as few as two Australian franchises and, at most, four.
The review comes at a time, too, when Australia’s national footprint has been completed after the return of the Western Force to Super Rugby AU.
It also comes after former Wallabies backrower turned pundit, Stephen Hoiles, questioned whether Australian rugby could not just support five teams in a possible trans-Tasman competition but thrive and compete.
But Wessels, who joined the Rebels from the Force after the Perth-based franchise was culled in 2017, said there was no reason why Australian rugby couldn’t once again become the envy of the world and become the Indian Premier League’s equivalent.
"I’m not sure where all this talk keeps coming from about the Rebels (future),” responded Wessels, after being asked whether their 29-10 victory over the Waratahs on Friday was sweeter given the debate surrounding whether the Rebels could once again be on the chopping block.
"Everyone that I’ve spoken to at Rugby Australia, and the comments that they’ve made, they’ve been pretty definitive about it.
"My view is very simple on it, every big city in Australia deserves to have a Super Rugby team.
"We live in one of the best economies in the world and if we’re talking about having to shrink to compete it’s just the wrong conversation to be having.
"The conversation we should be having is how do we build the best franchise competition in the world?
"How do we build our version of the IPL of rugby and build that not just for the best Australian players but the best global players? How do we bring the Maro Itoje’s and those sort of guys to Australia, and make a product that’s really desirable for broadcasters and fans?"
Wessels’ comments came on the same day that Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan said the governing body wouldn’t be dictated to by their neighbours with regards to their involvement in a possible trans-Tasman domestic competition.
On the back of the Aratipu Review, New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson had expected to receive expressions of interest from RA as to how many teams they would put forward for the competition.
But, speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, McLennan said that “If (chairman Brent Impey) and Mark [Robinson] want to chat with (RA CEO Rob Clarke) Clarkie and myself, I think next week’s the week to do it."
Meanwhile, a fortnight after Waratahs coach Rob Penney said it wasn’t helpful nor accurate to compare Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa, Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa said the Australian competition was still providing a physical test.
"It’s definitely been tough,” the Test tighthead prop said, following his side’s 24-0 win over the Force at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.
"Every week you’re just building up to a final.
"Every game we’ve played so far the body’s taken a beating, it probably takes a little bit longer to recover.
"To have this comp where you verse every Australian team, you want to be the best in Australia and this is definitely the comp to prove it."