After horror year for Aus, here come the All Blacks

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 06:43
Large kieran read all blacks 800

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Australia's once-mighty rugby scene has reached a low ebb after a year of problems on the pitch and off it - and things look unlikely to improve this week when New Zealand come to town.

While there is perhaps never a good time to face the world-beating All Blacks, Saturday's Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney does not come at an opportune moment for the Wallabies.

The two-time world champions come together at a time of civil war in Australian rugby after a lamentable Super Rugby season was followed by the contentious axing of one of its teams, Perth's Western Force.

The fall-out for the Australian Rugby Union is stark, with its Chief Executive Bill Pulver announcing his resignation and more changes likely to follow. 

A legal battle also looks in prospect after the Force, who enjoy the heavyweight backing of mining billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, applied to appeal against their removal from Super Rugby.

Meanwhile, Australian crowds and television ratings for the Southern Hemisphere competition have fallen off a cliff, with the once-popular code now wallowing behind Rugby League, Aussie rules and soccer in this sports-mad nation.

The discontentment comes ahead of the impending showdown with the Wallabies' trans-Tasman nemesis, the world champion All Blacks, this weekend.

The Wallabies have won just three of their last 29 Tests against the formidable New Zealanders, and often have been on the end of some on-field humiliations.

There was outrage over the Australian Rugby Union's decision last week to cull the Western Force from next year's Super Rugby competition, which prompted calls for the ARU board of directors to follow departing CEO Bill Pulver out of the door.

The national body earned widespread opprobrium when they made their long-awaited decision to discontinue the Force's Super Rugby licence, moving from five teams to four as the sprawling competition slims down to 15 franchises in 2018.

The Rugby Union Players' Association condemned the Force's axing as "the darkest day in the history of Australian rugby", while former Wallaby hooker Brendan Cannon called on the ARU board to resign in the wake of its "ill-conceived decision".

Australian rugby has been in freefall this season, with fans' interest plunging to new lows.

Crowds tumbled at Super Rugby matches as Australian teams struggled, from 643 790 in 2015 to just over 400 000 this year, while the host broadcaster reported a decline of more than 800 000 viewers from the previous year.

Australian Super Rugby teams were 0-26 in games against New Zealand opposition, while the Brumbies qualified for the play-offs as Australian conference winners despite losing more games than they won.

As one pundit put it: "An average [unimpressive] Brumbies outfit were only there [in the finals] because the other four Australian teams were considerably worse and the victims of inept play, hazy game plans, sub-standard coaching, poor preparation plus a lack of spirit."

Embattled ARU Chairman Cameron Clyne told reporters: "We have to face reality. Our teams are not winning on a regular basis.

"And that is keeping fans, who have a lot more entertainment options, saying that they are not going to make that investment and that has a direct impact on revenue.

"Even notwithstanding the fact that we've made a decision to cut a team, we will still expect two or three of the [remaining] teams to lose money next year."

He added that crowd numbers across all Australian Super Rugby franchises "were actually unsatisfactory", even with teams not under threat.

As appetite for Super Rugby diminishes, Fairfax Media journalist Paul Cully lambasted its administrator SANZAAR "not to underestimate the anger among the Australian rugby public, and not just in Perth [Western Force]". 

"SANZAAR has essentially 'lost' Australia over the past two years," he added.

This puts coach Michael Cheika and his Wallabies in an invidious position in their annual quest to conquer the marauding All Blacks in their one-sided Bledisloe Cup rivalry.

"For us, what we want to show to those people, from a Wallabies point of view, is best done by playing a great game of footy and entertaining them and making them proud to be Australian," Cheika declared.

Agence France-Presse

There are currently no matches being played
Fri, 23 March 2018
Connacht v Edinburgh 22h00 Sportsground
Munster v Scarlets 22h00 Thomond Park
Dragons v Cheetahs 22h00 Rodney Parade
Ospreys v Leinster 22h00 Liberty Stadium
Cardiff Blues v Ulster 22h00 Cardiff Arms Park
Glasgow Warriors v Zebre 22h00 Scotstoun
Kings v Treviso 22h00 Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
Crusaders v Bulls 06h35 Christchurch
Rebels v Sharks 08h45 Melbourne
Bath v Exeter Chiefs 19h45 Recreation Ground
Sat, 24 March 2018
Sunwolves v Chiefs 04h15 Tokyo
Hurricanes v Highlanders 06h35 Wellington
Saracens v Harlequins 15h00 London
London Irish v Gloucester 15h00 Madejski Stadium
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors 15h00 AJ Bell Stadium
Stormers v Reds 15h15 Newlands
Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints 17h30 Kingston Park
Jaguares v Lions 21h40 Estadio Jose Amalfitani
Sun, 25 March 2018
Leicester Tigers v Wasps 15h00 Welford Road
Sun, 18 March 2018
Waratahs v Rebels 51 | 27
Sat, 17 March 2018
Jaguares v Reds 7 | 18
Wales v France 14 | 13
Lions v Sunwolves 40 | 38
England v Ireland 15 | 24
Stormers v Blues 37 | 20
Italy v Scotland 27 | 29
Brumbies v Sharks 24 | 17
Highlanders v Crusaders 25 | 17
Fri, 16 March 2018
Cardiff Blues v Treviso 31 | 25
Edinburgh v Munster 12 | 6
Chiefs v Bulls 41 | 28
Sun, 11 March 2018
Wales v Italy 38 | 14
Sat, 10 March 2018
Jaguares v Waratahs 38 | 28
France v England 22 | 16
Team P W D L Pts
New Zealand 6 6 0 0 28
Australia 6 2 2 2 15
South Africa 6 2 2 1 14
Argentina 6 0 0 6 0