Fridays Rugby News sees the World Seven Series caught up in the worldwide virus alert, Super Rugby Round Three, Super W kick off and Brumbies trying to draw a crowd
WORLD SEVENS DISRUPTIONS
In a move that will probably not surprise anyone given the state of play worldwide, World Rugby announced on Thursday that the iconic Hong Kong Sevens, along with the Singapore Sevens will be postponed until October in order to deal with the Coronavirus issue, ESPN reported.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said in a statement, “The wellbeing of the rugby family and wider public is our priority & the decision to reschedule has been made in full consultation with the HKRU, Sport Singapore, unions and national authorities.”
This followed a rash of similar cancellations and postponements in other sports including soccer, golf, basketball, athletics and Formula One among others.
Hong Kong was to feature as a full stop of the Womens Series for the first time in 2020, as part of the expansion this year, while Fiji have won the last five Hong Kong titles on the men’s side.
While it is always disappointing when something like this happens, World Rugby really had little option, with safety being paramount in a situation where no one is sure what is going to happen next.
The upshot of this is bit more of a gap in the schedule for both men and women, although at this stage the Challenger events to qualify for the 2021 World Series are still scheduled to go ahead in South America for the men and South Africa for the women,
SUPER RUGBY WEEK THREE
Week Three will see one positive for Australian rugby. One more Australian team will get a win after tonight, when the Rebels host the Waratahs at AAMI Stadium, (7:15PM AEDT). Neither side has set the world on fire in their first two games, with the Rebels improving against the Brumbies last week and the Waratahs looking dire against a weakened Blues side. Mr Wobbly takes a look at the matchup here
Saturday has the Brumbies at home (again!), this time against the Highlanders. The Highlanders were disappointing last week at home against the Sharks so the Brumbies will be seriously eyeing this one off in order to put some more space on their rivals in the Australian conference. (7:15PM AEDT SAT)
Over in South America, the Reds world tour continues with their third game in three weeks on their third continent, facing the Jaguares. Teams aren’t yet out at the time of writing for this one but it will be interesting to see what sort of backline rejigging occurs from Brad Thorn this week after shifting James O’Connor to 10 last week, which to my eye, was ineffective from an attacking sense. (10AM AEDT Sunday)
The round kicks off with the Blues playing the Crusaders, the Sunwolves host the Chiefs, Hurricanes take on the Sharks, and Lions against Stormers.
Teamlists are here.
Tips: (also known as what not what to tip): Blues v Crusaders: Crusaders by 6, Rebeels v Tahs- Tahs by 9, Sunwolves v Chiefs- Chiefs by 15, Hurricanes v Sharks- Sharks by 8, Brums v Highlanders- Brums by 7, Lions v Stormers- Stormers by 5, Jaguares v Reds- Jaguares by 9.
SUPER W KICK OFF
The new season of Super W kicks off tonight down in Melbourne, with the Rebels taking on the Waratahs as part of the double header. Saturday will see the Brumbies play WA in Canberra, while Sunday has Queensland (who has the bye), playing Fijiana at Ballymore in what should be a good tune up for the Reds.
As has been the case since the inception of the competition, two issues have again reared their head- the length of the comp and the lack of payments to the participants. Asked by Fox Sports about the length of the competition, Brumbies skipper Michaela Leonard said, “Four rounds building into five rounds in the second season was great and I think it would be an even better opportunity to have that full home and away.”
Clearly for the perpetually cash strapped Rugby Australia money is the issue at play here, as Raelene Castle alluded to when she said when asked about payment for the players, ““Over time we’ll grow towards paying players to play Super W. But we have to make sure we crawl, then walk, then jog, then sprint.” In other words, not in the forseeable future.
The issue with that clearly is with AFLW that is playing at the same time while paying a reasonable wage, you cannot realistically expect a decent athlete to choose rugby if given the choice. Rugby is extremely fortunate that whilst paying their players, the NRLW is at the other end of the season so for the time being players can pick both. This won’t last forever with agitations to extend that comp and also a much stronger second tier NRLW State Cup being set up in Queensland in 2020. It’s really only a matter of time before Rugby Australia is forced to change their minds and pay the players.
With regards to the competition itself, my view is it needs to be longer or even co-opted with NZ to make a cross Tasman provincial comp. It makes good sense time wise and NZ are clearly the benchmark when it comes to the XVs format for women so while there likely be some shellackings in the short term, if we are ever going to seriously challenge the Black Ferns come test time, then it seems like the best approach.
While the format of the competition has not changed, some of the faces in it have changed but Rugby Reg is here to help. He’s previewed the Round One games here.
WHEREFORE ART THOU PUNTERS
Despite being the most consistent and best performed Australian Super Rugby team over a number of years, the Brumbies seem to be caught up in the malaise across the board that is affecting crowd numbers. Not even the sight of Joe Powell’s flowing locks dancing down the field seems to be bringing them in.
To their credit, the big wigs at the Canberra bunker aren’t waving the white flag but are trying almost anything to get people thorugh, and make it easier for them to do so.
ESPN discusses the issue here, Brumbies CEO Phil Thomson nails the issue when he says, “People see another headline about rugby and it’s not positive so they think rugby’s not in a good space – ‘Why should I go and watch that'”. This is despite the Brumbies winning 10 home games in a row all the while playing a pretty attractive style of footy.
Crowd averages (perhaps slightly dimmed by the heat and fires of the first game) are down again so far to just over 7,000, down again from the already dire 8,000 odd last season.
The Brums are trying all sorts of measures to bring in the punters and get them to come back, ranging from the old schtick of free beers to the more innovative. They have introudced a sensory area for families with children who might like rugby but struggle with the noise and light of the crowds. They have also fitted out a creche like area to keep the very small kids occupied during a game.
With any luck there will be some positive news across the rugby scene soon enough and crowds start to turn around because numbers like that will surely be hard to sustain for any length of time.