Centralisation. Alignment. Strategic re-set. Integration.
There have been many names used to describe the process of unifying Australian rugby in recent months, and aptly for a sport that has spent over a century fighting factional battles, there is still no real agreement on what it should be called.
But after many false starts and decades of people calling for some form of centralisation of Australian rugby, it’s finally underway. Sort of.
Rugby Australia and state-based member unions are currently negotiating for Australia’s five professional franchises to, at least, unite via high-performance alignment, which will see the rugby programs of the Super Rugby sides effectively be run under one national plan. Players, coaches and high-performance staff will be employed by RA, and all states have agreed to sign up for that much.
But Rugby Australia’s broader ambition of assuming full control of Super Rugby clubs as well – including branding and commercial business – has struck far more resistance, with only one state, NSW, so far agreeing to hand over the whole Waratahs franchise to head office. That historic move is due to be announced next week.
The entrenched wariness of head office’s leadership and competency has other states baulking, and RA is now using the term “integration”, and not the more polarising “centralisation”.
Queensland have declared they won’t be relinquishing commercial control of the Reds, and tensions between Rugby Australia and the Brumbies – who have also rejected a full take-over – are so inflamed that the ACT club has openly slammed RA and threatened the governing body with legal action.
WHAT IS CENTRALISATION?
Australian rugby has always had a federated governance structure, where state-based unions are the voting members of the national union and could historically use collective power to steer the game.
Successful nations like New Zealand and Ireland have thrived under centralised models, where head office controls and directs all professional rugby; from employing coaches, players and staff, to overseeing pathways and player movement around their professional teams.
Rugby Australia has long talked about the need to follow suit, but entrenched suspicion from the states towards Rugby Australia has always conspired to kill it off. With Australia’s fortunes nosediving further each year, however, new RA boss Phil Waugh announced in August the states had agreed to finally pursue a “strategic re-set”, and alignment in high-performance structures.
The Wallabies’ implosion at the Rugby World Cup a month later was used as further evidence of the need for drastic reform. Rugby Australia are in the process of recruiting a high-performance boss to oversee the new structure, but Eddie Jones saw it as too slow, citing a lack of progress on centralisation as one of his reasons for resigning.
“I would hope it actually makes it easier [to achieve] because you don’t need any more proof for why we need to change are having some very constructive conversations with our member unions and Super [Rugby] clubs,” RA chairman Hamish McLennan said after Australia lost to Wales.
“ We need to seize the opportunity to fix the game for good.“
IS IT A NEW IDEA?
On the recommendations of a report by former federal sports minister Mark Arbib in 2012, Australian rugby altered its governance structure, to move to an independe
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