I often like to play the ‘How good would Rugby Union be in Australia if League didn’t exist’ game. The depth we would have in every position would be astronomical. Chuck in AFL and we would have won every World Cup since 1987 and if we ever lost a match a Royal Commission would have been established.
With the end of round seven the critics have already begun to bemoan the lack of depth in the Australian pool of the Super Rugby Competition. With the introduction of the pool system in 2011 came immediate criticism: The Australian teams didn’t possess the grit, the quality or the depth of our Tri-Nations counterparts. This argument has been used to bolster the South African claims for a sixth Super team, just as it was used to argue that the fifth Australian team should instead have come from the rainbow nation.
There will always be complaints about Australia’s rugby style; open, free-flowing, and not really into the nitty gritty. Soft. The critics argue it is because of those reasons that Australia cannot justify a fifth or even fourth Super team. Commentator and fans alike are suggesting that 5 sides are too many – that our talent is stretched to the point we cannot hold our own.
There is merit to this argument. Sure, if the Force were to go under, the talent coming across the Nullarbor would bolster the stocks of the other four teams making them more competitive in the wider competition. A Rebels team with the Force backrow would be a team to watch. Give them a couple of years and they could even lift some silverware, which would be fantastic for Australian rugby.
At the world cup last year Robbie Deans was criticised for not having a suitable backup for David Pocock. Although Pocock is a man you can’t really replace, opportunity should be given to players to at least be perform as his understudy, and potentially his successor. By having five teams there are at least four other players who can play, challenge and ultimately usurp Pocock, but they can only hope to do so given opportunity to play at Super rugby level.
We can already see this happening, Liam Gill at the Reds and Michael Hooper at the Brumbies are already emerging as open side talent. Both are smart, athletic and skilled enough to become future Wallabies. Without 5 sides in the Australian pool how would players like this ever find an opportunity to develop and showcase their talent? Without five teams juniors like these, along with several others (Mogg, Kingston, Pyle, Harvey, McKibbin), would not have had the opportunity to play Super rugby. These are the people who wouldn’t have been in an Australian team back in the Super 12 days but have risen to the occasion and could develop into world-beaters before our eyes.
You can’t argue that at the moment the five Super teams lack depth but the solution to this problem is not to reduce the pool and conserve our stocks. Australia rugby should continue to support and develop each team. By supporting each team, they in turn will support and nurture local talent, increasing the playing stock for future Wallaby squads.