Wednesday’s Rugby News looks at the future of The Rugby Championship, the Waratahs injury crisis, the cancellation of the Sevens series and the redevelopment of Ballymore
TRC heading to NZ
The Rugby Championship looks set to be based in NZ as Super Rugby continues to work around the sudden spike of corona cases in Victoria.
According to The Australian, the latest spike in Victoria has left officials worried that it could happen in other states, with Sydney positioned as a possible centre for the tournament before the outbreak.
Couple this with the luxury of full crowds (and those precious gate returns), this makes NZ the ideal host for the event, with Rugby Australia set to approve the move in the coming days.
However, there is still the matter of what to do with the Rebels, who look set to relocate North of the border (not down Mexico way) in order to ensure the competition can commence.
With the Qld Government putting in heavy restrictions in playing teams from Victoria, the Rebels have been spared by a matter of days, with their round two clash to be likely held in NSW, with Manly’s Brookvale Oval the frontrunner.
Whilst this is the last thing that the sport needs on top of possible strike action from the RUPA, Rebels centre Billy Meakes is unfazed, focused on ensuring that rugby can return to the masses from Friday.
“For the majority of the playing squad, that is not something that we are concerned about or are involved in,” said Meakes.
“Regardless of what’s going on, the best thing for rugby in Australia right now is getting rugby back on the pitch, back on the screen, getting fans involved and just getting rugby started again, which is what we all are excited about.
“So that has been the main thing we have been focusing on.
“I don’t know there’s too much concern (right now), I think the overriding emotion is excitement about playing.
“There’s uncertainty around where we’ll be in the coming weeks but one thing that is certain is we’re playing the Brumbies and it’s just super exciting to be back out there playing Super Rugby.”
The Waratahs have been hampered by a host of injuries as they prepare to face off against the Reds on Friday.
In a sign that Michael Cheika’s training regime lives on at the club, Jake Gordon, Karmichael Hunt and Lalakai Foketi will all miss the clash with a hamstring injury.
Prop Tom Robertson is also in doubt as he manages a back injury, with the doctor of Scrumanomics unlikely to play in the season opener.
Assistant coach Chris Whitaker floated a few names who could make Waratahs debuts, with centre Joey Walton expected to slot into the line up whilst U20 Australian representative Ben Donaldson will likely earn a spot on the bench.
At halfback, Whittaker admits that Mitch Short will edge out young gun Michael McDonald for a starting spot in Gordon’s absence, with Ned Hanigan set to return after overcoming concussion symptoms.
Whitaker was pleased with the energy and enthusiasm that was being shown by the rookies as they look to prove themselves on a national stage.
“You can definitely see that lift in enthusiasm when the younger guys are in the run-on team,” Whitaker said.
“They’ve definitely got the enthusiasm [but] I wouldn’t say they’re overconfident.
“They’re quite honest in the areas they need to improve on as well, so they’re not going into the game almost too cocky. They just have a lot of enthusiasm where they just want to compete and they want to win.
“When you see them they’ve just got those combinations together.
“You’ve got guys like Ben Donaldson and Will Harrison who have grown up together and played with each other since they were seven years old. It makes a big difference.”
Sevens comp in heaven
The remainder of the 2019-20 Sevens World Series has been cancelled, with New Zealand awarded the men’s and women’s titles.
The season was forced to be cancelled after six events, with the Singapore and Hong Kong events cancelled along with the English and French legs of the tour.
As the leader in both the men’s and women’s standings when the series was halted, New Zealand was announced as winners of both competitions, with the Australians relegated to 2nd (women) and 4th (men).
“While it is very disappointing for players, fans, organisers and everyone involved to have to cancel these events due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the health and wellbeing of the rugby community and wider society remains the number one priority,” World Rugby CEO Bull Beaumont said.
“These difficult decisions have been taken following detailed consultation with our union partners and in line with advice from the various government and public health agencies around the world, given the global nature of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
“Congratulations to New Zealand on being awarded both the women’s and men’s Series titles following their outstanding and consistent performances prior to the onset of the pandemic, and to Japan for being crowned champions of the inaugural Challenger Series and securing a core place on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021.”
Whilst is unclear when the Sevens sides will play again this year, Australia has previously indicated that they hope to set up a trans-Tasman or even Pacific tournament as they look to maintain form/fitness ahead of the 2021 Olympics.
Ballymore Beauty Makeover
The home of Queensland Rugby is set for a major upgrade, with plans reportedly approved for a $30 million makeover of Ballymore.
According to the Courier-Mail, well-placed state government sources have revealed that they will match the $15 million already channelled to the project by the Federal Government to transform the site.
The venue will undergo redevelopment in time for the recently-won 2023 women’s football World Cup but fear not rugby purists, the ground will not shake and the Earth won’t open up as unholy ‘football’ posts grace one of the most spiritual sites in Australian Rugby.
Rather, the venue will be transformed into a multi-purpose high-performance training venue for the event, with the view that it will be promoted as an ideal hockey/inner-city training venue for Brisbane’s 2032 Olympic bid.
Forecasts suggest that it will be a major driver for the city as well, with more than 200 new construction jobs created by the shovel-ready Ballymore redevelopment over a period of 18 months.
The Reds will utilise the new National Rugby Training Centre as their main base and it will be an upgraded home for community rugby, with a brand new boutique venue created that will hold 10-12 thousand fans.
It is also expected that it will become the new national headquarters for women’s rugby, a sevens hub and a winter training base for the Wallabies.
The transformation will turn the site into a much-needed revenue raiser for the Reds and Queensland Rugby, with the historic site costing them $1 million on the balance sheet because of depreciation.