A full-season Trans-Tasman competition is no better than the current format
With the first two rounds of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman completed, it might be assumed that the problem for the Australian Super Rugby teams is they have been too insular by only playing against themselves in Super Rugby AU, and that the solution is more exposure to the New Zealand teams in a full-season Trans-Tasman competition.
Yes, the Australian teams do need exposure to the New Zealand teams to improve, but it’s worth noting that they would not be playing against the New Zealand teams in a full-season Trans-Tasman anymore than they are this year in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.
So, suggesting that the only alternative to embracing a full-season Trans-Tasman is shrinking back to play with your own ball in your own space is a bit of a false dichotomy.
Another option is simply retaining the current format of Super Rugby AU followed by Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.
However, the argument can still be made that playing against the New Zealand teams in a full-season Trans-Tasman would be a lot better for rugby in Australia than the current Super Rugby format, which suddenly showcases the gap between Australian and New Zealand teams all at once.
It is said that a full-season Trans-Tasman would help to rectify that because the New Zealand teams would also be playing against each other.
And there is merit in the argument that the current Super Rugby format needs to change – but to what?
While a full-season Trans-Tasman competition might appear advantageous over the current format, it still won’t solve the real problem for the Australian Super Rugby teams. In fact, it will only accentuate it.
The real problem for the Australian teams is insufficient depth. It’s not the only problem, but it has been their main problem since Super Rugby began to expand after 2005. And no amount of exposure to the New Zealand teams over the years has solved that problem.
<img src="https://cdn4.theroar.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/McKenzie-and-Swain-handshake-755x515.jpg" alt="Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs shakes the hand of Darcy Swain of the Brumbies." width="755" height="515" class="size-large wp-image-1128747" / (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images) Australia simply doesn’t have the depth (currently) to fill five teams in a competition against New Zealand’s five teams. And no amount of trying hard, embracing the challenge, or coaches' pep talks are going change that. And if there are two to three Australian teams always hovering around the bottom of the ladder in a full-season Trans-Tasman, it is going to have the same effect on rugby in Australia as the old Super Rugby did. Even two Australian teams winning Super Rugby in 2011 and 2014 couldn’t help Super Rugby engage the Australian market. Having insufficient depth means that even if one team improves, another teams declines. The problem is not for the Australian players or coaches. They are ready and willing to embrace the challenge. And the problem is not for Australian rugby fans on forums such as this one. I can imagine most Australian rugby fans on The Roar would continue to watch Super Rugby even if they might continue to call for change.
The problem is for the vast amount of Australian spectators who might otherwise like to watch rugby, even if they primarily follow another code. We saw the potential of the Australian market during Super Rugby AU this year.
I’m not suggesting a way forward in this article. I’m just wanting people who are calling for a full-season Trans-Tasman to stop and appreciate that it won’t solve the real problem for Australia’s Super Rugby teams, and that it could actually make things worse for Australian rugby.
Having said that, I understand Rugby Australia has been thinking about how to increase the depth of the Australian teams.
Some ideas have been mentioned, such as the recruitment of up to three foreign players per team, using private equity to drive significant constitutional reform and establishing a central contracting system like New Zealand, and using private equity to retain players rather than losing them to overseas teams.
If ideas such as these worked to increase the depth and competitiveness of the Australian teams, a full-season Trans-Tasman could work.
Alternatively, retaining the current format of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman following on from Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa could also work.
But until the depth problem is solved for the Australian Super Rugby teams, keeping the current format is probably the better option for Australian rugby.
Not only does the current format still provide the same amount of games against the New Zealand teams, but with Super Rugby AU alongside it, it probably gets more people interested in rugby and playing the game, which then attracts better athletes to the sport rather than them otherwise being drawn to different codes.
And that also would improve Australia’s depth.