April 18 2017
Rugby people in Australia are waiting anxiously for others to decide their future. Many are frustrated to the point of rage that they cannot influence matters and that the situation is happening at all. The Super Rugby organisers have created an unworkable and unsustainable competition structure. Following a recent SANZAAR meeting in London, South African Rugby are considering whether or not to cut two teams from their six. If they do, the Australian Rugby Union are all but committed to cutting one of their five teams.
Three Australian teams are in the firing line: The Brumbies (based in ACT), the Western Force (based in Perth) and the Rebels (based in Melbourne).
After initial speculation regarding the Brumbies (Australia’s most successful team in Super Rugby) and the Rebels (owned by a private company, which is based in Sydney), the might of the East Coast media has turned its fire against the Western Force. The mantra is that the growth in Australian Rugby must focus on Victoria. Victoria is the biggest population outside the rugby heartlands of NSW and QLD. Victoria is in fact Australia's most densely populated state and its second-most populous state overall, with a population of over 6 million.
The Western Force, so the mantra goes, are a drain on resources, several thousand kilometres from anywhere and offering in Perth a population of a mere 1.7 million – the vast bulk of whom are ardent Australian Football League (i.e. Aussie Rules) fans.
A rugby scrum is that portion of the game where opponents dip their head and shoulders into each other, one human force — driving and grunting — meeting another in a display of stubborn athleticism.
It turns out that in American rugby, they don’t keep that kind of head-butting on the pitch. It has bled into boardrooms from San Diego to Colorado to New York City.
It was a year ago this week that the first match was played in the inaugural season of the five-team PRO Rugby North America league – the first professional outfit to be sanctioned by USA Rugby, the sport’s governing body in the United States.
On April 23, the San Diego Breakers opened their 12-game campaign (they’d finish 4-8) with a victory over Sacramento in front of a lively announced crowd of 2,500 at USD’s Torero Stadium.
Those in attendance – many of them hardcore rugby enthusiasts – believed they were watching the dawn of a new era – one in which their own children might one day aspire to get paid to play the sport without crossing an ocean to do so.
As this spring arrived, with no 2017 schedule for PRO Rugby or any solid signs there would be a Season Two, many of those same fans were wondering: What the heck happened?
The answer: politics, money, and trails of alleged broken promises amid unvarnished ill will.
“It’s just very disappointing,” said Ray Egan, the Irishman who was San Diego’s head coach. “I still believe pro rugby could actually continue because the money is there. It’s just a matter of everyone getting around a table and agreeing about a way to move forward and how best to support each other, rather than saying, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ”
At the center of the storm is PRO Rugby founder Doug Schoninger, a New York financier who didn’t know anything about rugby until an Australian friend sold him on its viability as the next great pro sport in America.
In 2015, Schoninger hammered out the first-ever pro sanction deal with then-USA Rugby chief Nigel Melville, and a handful of people did the improbable in just a few months by finding venues and signing players from around the world to play in San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Denver, and Obetz, Ohio (near Columbus).
But the cracks in the foundation began to show barely after the season had begun. Melville resigned in late April and was replaced in July by Dan Payne, a former rugby player from New York whose club experience included playing for San Diego’s storied OMBAC. For a time, Payne also coached San Diego State’s men’s club team.
Day 1 in the ?? T-minus 6 months until 7's World Cup Qualifier. pic.twitter.com/jDJKY1jL8a— MacDowellRugby (@MacDowellRugby) April 15, 2017