An Open Letter to Bill Pulver and the ARU.

In response to the article in the SMH by Peter FitzSimons entitled – Why an Australian Super Rugby team must be cut.

Dear Bill,

Hope you’re well. You’re busy and so am I so I will get straight to my point. You may be wondering why I am taking the time to write to you and your organisation. The reason why I am dedicating my own time, and a page on my personal blog to this topic is passion. I am passionate about having a rugby union team in Melbourne – win, lose or draw. And you will find there are many thousands of us still here. Somewhat incredibly.

An article published on March 15th by Mr FitzSimons purports his own opinions as fact and makes sweeping generalisations broader than the Nullarbor. I know he was a forward but he certainly kicks some goals of self-interest in his story. I feel these need to be addressed. I’m having a quasi right-of-reply. I find his article incorrect and  damaging in equal measure.

The Goal. A successful Wallabies team.

Would we all agree that the benchmark by which success for Australian rugby is measured is the Wallabies. They are the ‘brand’ and the keystone for union in this, the world’s most competitive sporting landscape. However the umbilical cord between rugby union and the wider Australian sporting public these days is the Bledisloe Cup. Winning that is the only way for nationwide cut through. That is our Superbowl ad.

With this in mind much, if not most, of the malaise and decline of our sport here is due to 15 years without the cup. Nor is there any reasonable expectation that we will be able to win two-out-of-three games against the All Blacks to win it back.

I put it to you that whether we have three or thirty Super rugby teams is irrelevant to this goal. When it comes to the 23 players that don a Wallaby jumper the provincial team they play for is  moot.

Why a team ‘must be cut’!  Good click-bait but damaging myopia.

FitzSimons writes:

There is no pinpoint moment but, there is no doubt that the process of deterioration accelerated after the ascension of the Western Force in 2006 and got worse still after the Melbourne Rebels came along in 2011.

‘There is no doubt…’ – says who? Says you.

10/ 10 from the journalistic book of lies, damn lies and own agendas sir.

2003 – Oh happy days.

However there is no doubt that the highest pinnacle for Australian rugby union was 2003 and the RWC. I remember watching the final in a packed pub in Fitzroy Melbourne. All the pubs were the same – packed to the gunnels. And in Fitzroy no less with all the hipsters! (before they were actually called hipsters) I basked in the fact that the nation was sharing in my sport.

However after those cashed-up 2003 halcyon days a hitherto unending decline has begun.

First up we stopped winning the Bledisloe Cup. We were blessed with a once-in-a-generation team from 1998 – 2002. The Gregans, Larkhams, Eales et al who were winners! We Aussies love winners however we haven’t won again since. This has shed almost all but the most dedicated Wallabies fans over the years.

Overlaid on top of  this lack of Wallaby success came the rise-and-rise of big money to play in Europe and Japan. This accelerated apace in the late 2000s and continues as our greatest drain on player talent to this day. A fact not even touched on by FitzSimons.

Mssrs Pulver and FitzSimons do you really think it’s a good idea to give Australian players less incentive to stay and play here and even more to leave us. Axing a team does exactly that…

Will I stay to be in the extended-squad for the Brumbies or play off the bench for the Reds or will I go to overseas. Hmmm…

I wouldn’t ponder very long if I was a player. ‘Overseas’ includes going to New Zealand by the way to play the ITM Cup rather than the poorer standard NRC. That’d be a good result wouldn’t it.

Indubitably. Did you have to look it up? I did.

Great word. Again Mr Fitz gushes hubris in his article and writes with about as much flexibility as a concrete wall.

To paraphrase his point: Is the main reason for the decline in Australian rugby because of the extra two Super rugby teams?

Indubitably… the mathematics are unchallengeable.

Well I do challenge those and have above. But then again I am an ex-arts student who’s always hated maths. So…

Japan and Argentina.

When a company, or in this case SANZAAR, starts to flail one tactic available to them is expansion – or acquisition in the case of business. This can often rapidly right a balance sheet but is normally a short term fix. If there is greater ill within an organisation it will soon enough start to seep through again.

As a huge union fan I have never liked the inclusion of Japan and Argentina in Super rugby. It seemed and seems so superfluous. It also spelled the death-knell for any incidental Super rugby followers. As they left shaking their heads at the discombobulated conference system the sports media in general pointed and sniggered. Had our sport finally become so elitist that you now had to have a PhD to follow it.

They are needless inclusions. Why aren’t they being considered for ‘the chop’?

In Japan rugby already has a foot hold that will flourish like a spring blossom as RWC approaches. Is it useful to fill their stadia with fans who will witness Japanese players (and a wad of ageing journeyman) getting smashed every other week. This certainly has the potential to tarnish the gloss and appeal of rugby pre-cup.

As for the Jaguares they play like the Harlem Globetrotters on ice. Who could have foreseen that the phrase – gay abandon – was actually invented for them. I see a Pumas side clearly weakened after a year of their inclusion. I say leave their best players playing top flight rugby in Europe and let their improvements occur courtesy of the Rugby Championship. Which was happening!

The last point here is why is it ‘our’ job to help globalise rugby union. Outside of Australia it’s actually doing incredibly well. It seems like we are giving our last bandage away to someone else rather than stemming our own wounds. Are they mortal wounds?

The Rebels are terrible – they gotta go.

2017 has been a very challenging year for me as a supporter and the wider fan-base in general of the Rebels. Just have a look at social media. It ain’t perty.

However imagine this scenario for a moment.

At your work you have heard there are to be a significant number of people to be sacked. Sacked not made redundant. You don’t know from which department and you don’t know exactly when. How would your focus be? Would you be firing on all cylinders?

This is what the Rebels have been facing this year. It is only human nature to be worried. Will there be a team next year, will I get a contract, would I get picked up overseas, can I pay my mortgage? All these SANZAAR shenanigans must be deafening white noise.

At the same time they have had the misfortune of playing two of the most dynamic teams on the planet. The Blues can slay anyone on their day and the Canes – with Barrett at the helm and in the dry – are untouchable. Certainly by any Australian team.

Using this year as any kind of evidence as to whom should go – if indeed any team must – is short-sighted and unfair.

If they go, I go. Not a threat just a reality.

Mr FitzSimons writes nonchalantly whilst glancing through his Sydney prism. Even if Henny Penny and the sky does fall-in NSW will still have a union team. Not that many people in Sydney seem to care or go to the games that is – 2014 and Michael Cheika excepted. If I was a student again I would go to the Waratahs home games to study. It’s so much quieter than any uni library. But I digress…

Mr Pulver and the ARU please give up trying to ‘win over’ Melbourne with union. Never, repeat, never going to happen. However I’ll tell you something that will happen if you take our team away from us.

I’ll stop going and I’ll stop caring. And you so need me and the other thousands of expat union fans in this city and in Perth for that matter. If you leave us I’m sure we’ll leave you. That’ll leave you NSW, ACT and QLD as the nexus to solvency and success. Have you had a look at Suncorp or Canberra Stadium crowds in the last couple of years?

The Wrap (around)

In conclusion:

  1. I believe rugby can rebound in Australia off the back of a successful Wallabies team.
  2. The counter-intuitive way to go about this is by actually reducing the pool of players competing for, and eligible to wear a gold jumper in Australia.
  3. Melbourne should not lose a team because of some delusional Sydney-centric desire to hack into AFL heartland. Sure the AFL juggernaut has successfully done this to other states but it will never happen here and almost smacks of jealousy.
  4. If the ARU allows rugby to be removed from Melbourne they should expect a commensurate removal of any loyalty from us to them and their content. And how in any way does that help the Wallabies and rugby in Australia in general?

I think I’ll leave the ending to Mr Fitz when he says…

I frankly suspect that it will be Rebels, and feel for them. [I’m sure they thank you for that heartfelt empathy] But the sad truth remains, while AFL has done brilliantly well surging into Sydney and Brisbane – flourishing despite being in league and union territory – neither league nor union has managed to do the same in the AFL heartland of Melbourne.

So what, moot point, move on.

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