You are here
The continuing and unpromising decline of Men’s rugby in Australia spells problem for the sport in that country, and, consequently, for the world rugby community. One the most successful rugby nations, with two World Cup victories, and two RWC runner up placements, has experienced a steady and serious decline of fan and media interest.
First, there are the facts: rugby ranks as the 26th most popular sport in Australia, having dropped 93,000 participants in fifteen-years. Currently, only 55,000 men and women actively play the game and this total includes Union and League combined. Meanwhile, as rugby declines, the participatory numbers for soccer football and Australia Rules Football (“Footy”) are on the upswing. Even the Women’s Sevens side, which brought home Olympic gold in 2016, failed to stem the national disinterest.
While the Men’s Wallabies remain competitive against other Tier One sides, except for the All Blacks, the national team has failed to generate much support. In the latest Test against Fiji in 2017, a record low crowd of only 13,600 turned up in Melbourne for the contest.
New Zealand remain the bête noire not only defeating the Wallabies in the annual, southern hemisphere Six Nations Competition, but also winning the Bledisloe Cup (the annual game between the two nations) for the past fifteen-years in a row.
A further embarrassment stems from the fact that the New Zealand professional sides in Super Rugby (New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Japan) have only lost three matches to the five Australian teams in the past two years. The Blues (NZ), the lowest ranking Kiwi side, beat the Brumbies, the highest ranking Aussie club. All five teams in the Australian Conference are below .500 (Brumbies highest at 6-9) while the five Kiwi teams in the New Zealand Conference of Super Rugby are at .500, or significantly above.(Crusaders at 14-1).
The heyday of Wallaby rugby occurred between 1998 and 2004 when stars like Michael Lynagh and David Campese lead the team to victories on the world rugby stage.
How grim is the prospect of a turnaround? A columnist from the Canberra newspaper wrote, “The game is dying a death by a thousand cuts in this country and it doesn’t look like its changing soon.”