Thursday Rugby News has more on the
Buildcorp NRC, a new twist in the Super Rugby saga, players coming and going, and some rather blue-faced Lions.
NRC still a worthy cause
Following the news that Buildcorp had pulled their naming rights support of the NRC yesterday, the ARU have been quick to jump to the defence of the young competition. Josephine Sukkar, the Principal of the construction company, announced they had pulled support due to the ARU’s inability to commit to a women’s XVs National Championship.
With Sukkar being President of Australian Women’s Rugby and also sitting on an ARU nomination committee, if there was ever any doubt that there was division within the corridors of the St. Leonards HQ, that is well and truly gone now.
However, the ARU came out and defended the competition in an article from the Sydney Morning Herald, despite acknowledging the ‘disappointment’ of losing their major sponsor.
“Based on a range of on-field and off-field measures, the NRC has been a successful competition and has proven to be an effective platform for player and coach development,” said an ARU spokesperson.
“The NRC has a robust commercial model and is guaranteed through the current broadcast agreement with Fox Sports [until 2020].
“We are disappointed that Buildcorp will not continue as naming rights partner for the NRC however we are already in positive discussions around securing a partner for the coming season.”
While the ARU or Buildcorp shouldn’t exactly be commended for their efforts over the last 24 hours, the NRC has been one of the few success stories for Australian rugby in recent years, and it has become a competition that more and more rugby folk are getting behind. Broadcast ratings for the competition increased 23 per cent last season compared to 2015, while attendances went up 10 per cent on the previous season.
While it is important to remember that it is from a low base, the fact it is picking up more interest (as well as including an exciting unknown entity in the Fiji Warriors this year) could be a strong indicator of positive things to come, (if the ARU manage to find a new sponsor). The Rugby Union Players Association also surveyed the players last season and 90 per cent said the standard of the NRC was better than club rugby, and 96 per cent said their overall NRC experience was positive.
Either way, this news couldn’t have come at a worse time, with the extraordinary general meeting less than a fortnight away.
‘Blue (Da Ba Dee)’ the theme tune of Lions tour
Well, the lads in the podcast (see above) predicted the Blues would give the Lions a run for their money. But, lets look at this. The ‘weakest’ NZ Super Rugby franchise vs. the best players of Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. When they did their tour of Australia four years ago, the Lions complained that their warm-up matches against the Super Rugby franchises weren’t enough of a challenge.
All I can say is, be careful what you wish for.
(This may be a little sadistic of me, but seeing the Lions struggle against the Kiwis just as much as we have been is weirdly cathartic, probably because we’ve been dealing with it for the last two years. Yeah, you blokes in the Northern Hemisphere have got it so bloomin’ easy!)
The Auckland Blues tamed the Lions in emphatic fashion in front of a vocal crowd at Eden Park, winning 22-16 to hand the Lions their first defeat of the tour. The Blues ran in three tries-to-one, and while the Lions looked to have the game in the bag off the boot of Leigh Halfpenny, an outstanding try to West in the 74th minute gave the Blues a six-point lead, and the win.
The Lions were a lot better in this game, but for many fans, alarm bells are starting to go off. Prior to the game, Warren Gatland had put down the Lions lacklustre performance against the NZ Baabaas down to exhaustion, jet lag and fatigue. Now, suddenly, all of us are wondering if this Lions team actually has any teeth.
They are certainly being savaged by both the Kiwi media and the European media so far on their tour. There ain’t no butts about it, they need to fix their problems, and fast.
How awkward that after losing to New Zealand’s weakest Super Rugby team, they now head down to Christchurch to play New Zealand’s strongest Super Rugby team on Saturday. Anyone tipping the Crusaders for that one?
Players on the move
Players are on the move once again. The first notable one was the announcement that Brumbies hooker Saia Fainga’a (pictured here in Reds colours) will leave the Canberra franchise at the end of this season to join London Irish in the English Premiership.
Both Saia and Anthony have been back at the Brumbies for this season, but have struggled to make it onto the field due to lingering injuries. While this year has been a major struggle, Saia is looking forward to a new challenge.
“A move to London Irish presents me with an exciting challenge and one which I want to make the most of,” Fainga’a said.
“I’ve heard great things about Irish and it’s certainly a forward-thinking club with big plans for the future.”
While many will be ruing the loss of yet another Australian player to overseas clubs, the Brumbies themselves look in good stead to re-sign a lot of the players who go off contract this year. Add in the fact that
ruck god David Pocock will be back from a sabbatical, and co-captain Christian Lealiifano continues to progress after a bone marrow transplant, and things are certainly looking a lot rosier from the Brums.
Meanwhile, down in Melbourne the Rebels have signed England international and British and Irish Lions second-rower Geoff Parling for next season.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Parling is the first signing by an Australian Super Rugby franchise since the moratorium was lifted. Having been part of Exeter‘s championship winning team this year, the player knows how to win games and instil a winning culture. This is a big signing for the Rebels.
“Geoff boasts a wealth of international and domestic experience in successful rugby programs so he will contribute to the strong leadership at the club, along with his world class lineout skills and hard running qualities which will complement our squad,” said Melbourne Rebels chief executive Baden Stephenson.
If the Rebels are cut from the competition next year, Parling’s contract dictates he would be paid out his entire 2018 contract with the option of going and plying his trade elsewhere. While some may see this as a brilliant move by Parling, it comes with a catch. He only gets the money if he goes to another Super Rugby franchise. Either way, we better get used to seeing him around, and that ain’t no bad thing.
And finally, we get to poor Rob Simmons. This year has not been kind to the lanky lock, with the news that he has been released from his contract at the Reds after nine seasons.
However, as reported by the Courier Mail, it seems Simmons is valued more by the national team than by his own state. Two months ago, the The ARU agreed to a new contract top-up to keep the 71-Test veteran in Australia until the 2019 Rugby World Cup. To activate this deal though, Simmons will have to find a new Super Rugby club, and the signing of Geoff Parling to the Rebels has already stifled his chances of moving to Victoria.
But, despite these setbacks, Simmons did provide some perspective.
“I have loved my time with the Reds and have experienced the highs and the lows with them and it has moulded me into the man I am today,” Simmons said.
“While the decision is disappointing, I’m excited about my future and I wish the Reds the best.
“I have an offer from the ARU for the next two years and I am exploring my options in Australia as I still have a burning desire to contribute to Australian rugby and the Wallabies.”
With Will Skelton heading overseas next year, the Waratahs look to set to be the favourite to become Simmons’ new team. Goes to show how messed up this whole bloody situation is when a veteran Wallaby like Simmons is struggling to find a club.
Force & ARU agree to arbitration
Speaking of extraordinary events, the Western Force and the ARU are set to go into arbitration in August, with the club releasing a statement today. The statement reads as follows:
RugbyWA and the ARU have agreed today to fast track the resolution of the dispute currently before the Supreme Court of Western Australia through arbitration.
The RugbyWA Board believes that to proceed to arbitration is the best way forward for not only the Road Safety Western Force, but for the betterment of the Super Rugby competition, and to expedite this process will only benefit the parties involved.
The Board is particularly concerned with the lack of clear direction for players, staff and supporters and the expedited opportunity provided by a firm arbitration date will be in everyone’s interest.
The arbitration has been timetabled to take place in the week commencing 31 July 2017.
The process, as reported by the West Australian, will be surrounded by a cloak of confidentiality. If a resolution is reached, an announcement could be made that week.
Regardless, many of the Force’s loyal fanbase have found themselves scratching their heads at the actions, with many calling for clarity from both RugbyWA and the ARU.
The Force have made it clear that they will be not backing down from their fight against the ARU, but they want to bring this entire debacle to an early end for their players, staff and supporters. They also have announced they have uncovered major flaws in the ARU’s evaluation process to cut a side.
But in all seriousness, don’t cut the Force! They’re the only Aussie team this year that has really been worth watching!