Australian teams should be pulled from Super Rugby and money redirected to the grassroots to revive the struggling code in this country, according to former Wallaby Brett Papworth.
Spurred into action by the embattled Wallabies’ record home thrashing by the All Blacks in the wake of a poor Super Rugby season, Papworth has lashed the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) with a damning assessment of the game’s administration.
Papworth took aim at what he labelled the ARU’s “from-the-roof-down” approach to the sport.
“How can we be spending more than ever on the growing professional arm of the game, but getting worse?” he asked.
“I have gone back as far as I can into the ARU annual report archives, and can tell you that since 2007, the ARU has spent $777,000,000 on the game (in nine years). Almost all of it on the growing empires that are supposed to make us a rugby superpower.
“In that time, investment in rugby’s grassroots has fallen to pretty much zero.”
He also pointed to the weak financial model of the country’s Super Rugby franchises – who combined for a woeful three wins from 25 matches against New Zealand opposition – as a reason why the ARU needed to get out of the competition, which has confused many with its new 18-team, four-conference model.
“Tell SANZAR that it’s over,” wrote Papworth in a column on Rugby News.
“And if it costs us money to get out, then who cares, because it is currently being wasted on the wrong things anyway.
“The simple fact is that we, the rugby public, don’t care anymore.
“It has become meaningless, and if you ever want to win again you had better start creating real meaning at every level.”
Instead, Papworth argued for a stronger interstate series which would increase interest in the sport and its players at a representative level.
“Money will still flow from matches that people actually care about, and it shouldn’t be too hard to create an annual interstate series that matters,” he said.
He claimed high-performance academies had led to younger elite players taking shortcuts, and argued the sport needed to do more to get into schools with free registration fees to attract more junior players.
However ARU chief executive Bill Pulver earlier this week said inroads had been made into public schools, where 800 had embraced national rugby week.
The ARU is currently reviewing a SANZAAR-initiated report into the newly-expanded Super Rugby competition.
One proposal in the report involves dropping one Australian franchise.
And while Pulver said all ideas were open for discussion, it appears unlikely changes will be made until the end of the 2020 broadcast deal.
“Everything is on the table,” he told AAP on Friday.
“We’ve interviewed all the Super Rugby clubs and national unions and the idea is to design the competition for the future.
“The broadcast agreement is from 2016-20, so that’s the most likely time we’re looking at.”