Last week marked the final round of the Super14's regular season – ever, with the 2011 series to kick-off as the Super15's with a vastly different format. 2011 will also see the new Melbourne Rebels team enter the competition as the fifth Australian team.
Under the new format, teams will play other teams from their own country twice while playing all but two of the remaining teams once. While the competition has become more player and family friendly (as noted by the author a few weeks ago) the new format won't save Australian rugby from what appears to be in terminal decline on the world stage.
South Africa's Currie Cup and the Air New Zealand Cup provide a far superior training ground for potential Super14 and national players. Importantly the bulk of both competitions are held following the Super14's allowing the players to involve themselves in those competitions.
However, here in Australia there is no competition on a national level. This means Australia is at a distinct disadvantage as the two main city competitions just don't stack up against the Currie Cup and Air New Zealand Cup national competitions.
In 2007, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) launched a national competition that sadly failed in its first year having lost millions of dollars. The decision by the ARU to disband the competition drew a lot of criticism given it was unlikely it was ever going to make a profit in its first year.
The failure of this competition has serious ramifications for the future of Rugby in Australia. The simple fact is that Australia will always struggle to supply the depth of first-class rugby players it needs when they are being selected from competitions that don't stack up against those in New Zealand and South Africa.
Depth is one of those things that doesn't get noticed until you lose your senior players. The Australian Cricket Team, for example, went through a trying time recently when they lost a number of senior players due to retirement and injury. For a short time the Australian Cricket Team struggled until they were able to reform their team. Their ability to bounce back to be world leaders was based solely on their ability to select players from the national Sheffield Shield competition – the world's leading first class cricket competition.
If Australian Rugby wants to return to its former pre-professional glory days it must look to what New Zealand and South African Rugby is doing to promote the game at all levels and allow players to gain the experience from playing against the world best. In short they must re-examine the need for a national competition or face dying a slow death on the national rugby stage.
People wonder why fellowship is so important in the church today. As rugby players rely on developing their skills and abilities by learning from other experienced players, so to as Christians do we need to glean valuable teaching from other Christians in regular fellowship.