How to rebuild Australian rugby’s depth – without breaking the bank


We all know that Rugby Australia and the state unions have a lot of work to do to pull Australian Rugby out of the funk it has been in for the last 20 years.

We all know that the Wallabies need to find a way to win the Bledisloe back and start winning more than we lose.

We all know that the Super Rugby teams need to improve and be beating the Kiwi teams more often than once or twice a season.

We all know that there needs to be better pathways. The disagreement comes with how to do it, and who pays for it.

Clearly, there is no quick fix that will get the Wallabies or the SR sides back to winning against our Kiwi cousins, and the status quo is not acceptable.

There are, therefore, only two choices. Sit back and throw stones at the RA administrators for things that were done wrong this year, last year or 10 years ago. Or engage in a meaningful way and put forward ideas that are going to help bring about meaningful change.

I believe it all needs to start and end with sorting the pathways out. However, as RA aren’t exactly flush with cash, it needs to be done on a shoestring budget. I believe it can be done and like a lot of ideas, the answer may be sitting right in front of us.

Before we go any further though, let’s look at the pathways in the NRL, the rival comp that continues to unearth new talent. For simplicity, I will use NSW as the example:
• Harold Matthews – U17 – 16 teams – feeds into SG Ball
• SG Ball – U19 – 17 teams – feeds into Jersey Flegg
• Jersey Flegg – U21 – 12 teams – feeds into NSW cup
• NSW Cup – Open – 12 teams – feeds into the NRL

Clearly RA don’t have the money to replicate this, and to be honest I don’t think we need to replicate it either. Rugby’s pathway can be better!

Wallabies Angus Bell and Robert Leota celebrate a try. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Drumroll please….here’s my very simple plan:
1. Each SR team to field a reserve grade team in the first division of the premier competition in their state. The Tahs into Shute Shield, the Brumbies into John I Dent Cup, etc.
2. Each SR team to field a team made up of their academy players in the second division of the premier comp in their state.
3. SRAU be held from the end of August onwards (i.e. after the premier comps have finished).

The costs would be minimised. The SR teams would need to expand their squads by 15-20 or so players on minimum wage; the SR teams already have academy players, but they may need to pay them a little bit more; and they would need to employ new coaches for the reserve and academy teams.

Other than that, the running and administration costs would be minimal. Very little travel, very little new infrastructure.

Pre-season work ????#SuperRugbyPacific

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) November 13, 2023

It could be started off quickly, by having the reserve grade in the first year and then expanding it to the academy teams in the second or third year.

The benefits would be:
– There would be more opportunities for coaches. The coaches of the reserve and academy teams would work closely with the SR head coach.
– The reserve and academy coaches get to coach the players and see how they implement it in gameday situations week in and week out. This would be good for cohesion and skill development, as well as having players ready to step into the SR side if needed.
– More players get significantly more opportunities.
– The reserve and academy coaches get to see players from other teams and identify players that may have been missed by the scouts.
– There would be a clear pathway for up-and-coming players that have the potential to be elite. If they are good enough, they can always jump a step.
– More community engagement as fans get to see the up-and-coming players play in their local competitions.
– Younger players get to mix with the seasoned professionals and see what it takes to make it to the top.
– This could be easily replicated across women’s rugby.

Unfortunately, the benefits are not going to be felt for many years, and there’s unlikely to be any impact in time for the Lions tour or the 2027 RWC, but I believe it is the cheapest pathway to improve the state of Australian rugby.

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Finally, the ideas here aren’t mine alone. They have been gleaned from other Roarers across the last few months and years. That said, I am happy to take the flack if you all think it is a rubbish idea.

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So what do you think?


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