Australia’s Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) is considering strike action by its players, should the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) endorse changes to the Super Rugby composition of teams for 2018, which will involve dropping one Australian franchise and two SA ones.
SANZAAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby) met earlier in March about proposals for a reduced Super Rugby format, involving 15 teams, down from the current 18.
RUPA is looking at protest action, after speculation that either the Western Force, the Melbourne Rebels – or even the ACT Brumbies – could be dropped in the changes.
It is concerned that not only the top teams among the Super Rugby franchises will be affected, but that it will have a significantly negative effect on associated lower levels of Australian domestic rugby, such as the third-tier National Rugby Championship (NRU).
If for example, the Melbourne Rebels were axed, it would affect the player-base for the Melbourne Rising team in the NRU.
The RUPA cannot take strike action until January 1, in terms of its current collective bargaining agreement with the ARU, but could enact its plan in the pre-season of the Super Rugby competition in 2018.
Former chief executive of RUPA, Greg Harris, said: “The professional game evolved out of player militancy.
“It might well be that player militancy again is the only action which looks after the best interests of the game in Australia, because there are no indications that the ARU are performing this task at present.”
Previously, as head of RUPA, Harris had expressed his disapproval of the 18-team format and commissioned a report which suggested that the ARU should instead seek a trans-Tasman competition with New Zealand, cutting out the involvement of SA, Argentina and Japan.
Critics of the current format cite excessive travel demands on players, crossing of time zones and the complex, often confusing (to fans) conference structure as not being viable for the continued success of any such competition.
In the past, Harris had also suggested, controversially, that New South Wales, Sydney in particular, be given two Super Rugby franchise licences, while stripping Perth’s franchise, the Western Force, of theirs. His intention was to optimise the market share for stakeholders in rugby union’s traditional Australian strongholds.
He has since expressed a change of opinion in that regard, acknowledging that the Western Force has proven its credentials, in terms of commercial viability.
Now though, Harris has directed his ire squarely at the ARU: “The Australian Rugby Union has only itself, and especially its leadership, to blame for the abyss which it finds itself in.
“In a real-world commercial environment, the company’s shareholders would now be demanding the heads of those who allowed the game to enter into the current Super Rugby competition.
“Courage, knowledge and leadership are required to make professional rugby work in Australia, and in order to create a vibrant community game that underpins it all.
“Hiding behind the skirts of the other SANZAAR parties, when hard decisions and the best interests of Australian rugby are at stake, shows a distinct lack of leadership.”