New Rugby Australia chair Daniel Herbert says it is realistic to imagine a new tier of club-centric rugby in this country filling the void as early as next year.
When the dust settled late Monday on the tumultuous 72 hours that reshaped the leadership of the code, the question from the grassroots was the same, “what is changing?”
Appointing a High-Performance Manager to oversee structural change, before the next Wallabies coach is selected, and committing to a new tier between club rugby and Super Rugby are on Herbert’s priorities list.
Herbert said without hesitation that “playing more footy” was integral to lifting experience and embedding skills through the ranks of aspiring Australian players.
On that he is totally aligned with RA Chief Executive Phil Waugh. Both believe the fervour built through existing clubs is the way to go rather than constructing new teams for a National Rugby Championship, the concept that stalled after six seasons (2014-19).
On Monday, there was symbolism to Herbert’s first media appearance as RA Chair being enacted at GPS Rugby Club in Brisbane where he first played as a teen and shared in the club’s 1996 premiership.
“Clubs like GPS and many around Brisbane, many in Sydney and in other states...that’s where there is some real tribalism,” Herbert said.
“We have to build on that tribalism. Various models have been considered over the years so what that (competition) looks like will take some important engagement from unions and clubs.
“I think we can get it up for next year. Some discussions have taken place but we need to model it and see what it looks like.
“A lot of Wallabies coaches over the past decade have said that not playing enough games is one of our biggest issues for rising players.
“I remember one coach within the Wallabies saying that Richie Mo’unga had already played 100 first class matches by the time he reached the All Blacks. Noah Lolesio played perhaps 20 before becoming a Wallaby.
“Our players need to play more footy, more of the right footy.
“Phil and I both believe the tribalism at club level is very strong and the right competition can further grow the clubs.”
Queensland Rugby Union Chair Brett Clark made the strong point on Monday that the fraught tenure of Eddie Jones and the World Cup crash were not the sole reasons why six member unions called for the resignation of outgoing RA Chair Hamish McLennan.
“There have been some decisions made around attracting NRL talent. At the same time, we have this situation in Queensland where the majority of some school First XVs are contracted to the NRL,” Clark said.
“We are a net exporter of players (to Australia’s other Super Rugby clubs) yet we haven’t been able to retain some of those players. We cried out to RA for more money and funding to be able to stop that leakage.
“That’s important. You go back to cultural fit and values. If you are a young boy or girl playing rugby and paying a lot of fees along the way but then you read in the press that all this money has been paid to one player, and we can’t retain a talented Under-16s or Under-19s player, that’s where it breaks down.”
Herbert followed up by saying that “rugby focussing on rugby” had to be the tack.
“What rugby league does is up to them. We have got a lot more growth possible from within. That’s what rugby people want, not manufacturing something,” Herbert said.
“That said, you never say never. The game is always open to good athletes, men and women, boys and girls, coming to our code from wherever.”