Adam Freier in a Megan Gale style of cafe eavesdropping, I started to tap in on an interesting conversation between a couple at a local cafe in the vibrant suburb of Fitzroy.
The topic: ballroom dancing and how its brand had been ‘flooded and tarnished’ by the hit TV series of Dancing with the Stars.
“It’s such a shame that the art of our dance has been turned into a circus,” one said. The other agreed: “Our art that has lost its soul.”
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The conversation certainly got me thinking about my game of rugby.
Like ballroom dancing, our sport has delved into new markets branching out west and in recent times here in Melbourne.
To explain the magnitude of the growth of Super Rugby, we best compare it to the rise of the AFL. A once 16-team competition growing to 17 to 18 with the introduction of the Suns and GWS from 2011 and 2012 is a rough growth of 12% over a two-year period.
Super Rugby’s growth has been from three to four Australian teams in 2006 and then to five with the Rebels in 2011 is an increase of nearly 70per cent. So has this growth diluted the quality of our local rugby player?
If the argument has surfaced within AFL circles, growing from 16 to 18, then people have the right to question rugby’s growth and whether its talent is being stretched.
With any growing periods there are growing pains, and rugby is no different. For the game to find its way in the one of the world’s most competitive sporting markets, it needs to being getting the message out there.
More teams means more people watching the matches, and with more interest comes greater participation from seniors and more importantly juniors.
Interest has grown, crowd numbers in Victoria are very strong, and FOX ratings for the Rebels have taken all people involved by surprise.
This is a process that will take time, and ultimately will make the ‘rugby cordial’ more potent. Opportunities have been taken, with players like Hugh Pyle, battling to get a contract in one state, now being on the door step of an extended Wallaby squad. Then there is Nick Phipps, who had four wallaby half-backs starting for each team in front of him. He came to a new team in non-rugby state, in search of a start, now he appears destined to be a Wallaby.
So has the Super Rugby competition been diluted? Without question. Have we witnessed the birth of young stars where we might not have? Absolutely.
The strength of our country’s code and its performance doesn’t come down to where each super club is on the ladder. If so, with the exception of NSW and Queensland the interpretation would be that rugby is not going too crash hot.
We need to stay focused on what we are trying to achieve for our game in this country. Growth. In time that will produce world-class players.
Melbourne people are a big part of that, although the question will be asked as to whether it’s all really worth it.
Should we be promoting the game in states where participation is relatively low and it’s a second string sport? Should we be only investing in what we know truly works in Queensland and NSW?
It can’t be the case. Rugby needs to tap into Melbourne’s fountain of sporting exuberance.
That state of our game should be measured by its growth, as well as the success of the Wallabies. A tide that has turned in the past 12 months.
Make no mistake. If New Zealand coaches consider our domestic competition as a substandard to their own, then so be it. We welcome the comment, we are lucky to be part and play against such great rugby team’s such as the Crusaders and Blues in this unique competition that is Super Rugby.
Our goal is to continue to let this code grow and to produce a Wallabies team that can live along side the current All Blacks team today.
We cant keep checking on his health every 5 minutes. We need to be patient. It will take time.
We need not shy away from the fact we are diluting the playing depth in some regards, but need to embrace what the challenge is and get on with how we can be better as a code. Melbourne will be a part of its revival, in time.