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One of history's memorable rugby nations, Australia, has been facing serious problems sustaining the game amid competition from other domestic sports, and growing disinterest among the Aussie fan base. Critics point out that the Wallabies have not captured a Rugby World Cup since 1999 (Losers to New Zealand in the 2015 RWC final) and have not won the annual Bledisole Cup against archrival New Zealand since 2002.
Popularity peaked in 2003 when Australia hosted that year's RWC, won by England against the Wallabies in overtime.
Rugby union arrived in Australia in 1864, when it was introduced at Sydney University. Initially, it was played at boys’ private schools and in the nation's colleges, a limited and exclusive population. Over time, rugby union was established in New South Wales, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the region between Sydney and Melbourne.
Three other sports offered significant and, in one case, regional competition to rugby union. The first is Australian Football ("Footy") founded in the south at the Melbourne Cricket Club (and the reason why Footy is played on the same sized cricket oval). The AFL is a distinctively Australian game played professionally nowhere else. Of the league's 18-teams, only four are in the same territories as rugby union, an indication of the sport's overwhelming popularity in the southern Victoria province (Melbourne the capital) and extending west to Perth in Western Australia.
The second is soccer football, which appeals to the multi-national composition of the Australian population across all cities and provinces. It is a global game that is easy play, and without serious injury player risk.
Third is Rugby League, demographically with greater working class appeal than Rugby Union. The RFL competes in the same heartland as Union, but attracts a substantially larger player base of 170,000 compared to Union's 87,000. More rugby fans identify with an RFL team than Union's Super Rugby League.
The All Blacks Domination
Another prominent reason for a declining fan base has been the Wallabies poor head-to-head results against New Zealand from 2003 to April 2019. In that time period, the All Blacks are 38-8-2 against Australia in annual Rugby Championship games, Bledisole matches, and RWC meetings. Compare this with the Kiwis narrow 15-14 results in the period between 1990 and 2002, and it demonstrates how less competitive Australia have been against their nearest opponent.
The marked swing from previously playing New Zealand almost even to a low 17 win percent has generated season after season of national disappointment. With the Wallabies poor showing, the fans and the media have questioned the nation's resolve in restoring past rugby glory against the number one fifteen in the world.
(Part 2 - Restorative Measures and Emerging Women)