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The on-going drastic decline in popularity and participation of rugby union in Australia bodes an ominous outcome in the Land of Oz, and for future international competition as well. The nation that won two Rugby World Cups and were RWC runners up on two occasions is experiencing a long slide into national disinterest.
Overall, total Australian sports participation declined 7% from 2001 to 2016, affecting not only rugby but in addition, golf, tennis, and cricket. A research poll reveals the shocking statistic that Rugby Union declined from 148.0M participants to just 55.0M, an alarming 63% decrease. Rugby’s loss was soccer’s gain of 46%, the highest increase of all sports. Fifteen-year selected sport participation data follow (Mn):
Sport Rank 2001 2016 +/-%
Soccer 1 428 623 +46
Golf 2 814 621 -24
Tennis 3 711 463 -35
Cricket 5 418 377 -10
Footy 8 256 252 -01
Rugby Leag. 17 175 127 -27
Rugby Union 26 148 55 -63
Total 4.121 3.937 -07
Part of the reason for the decline is that rugby has been a private school sport played in only two provinces, Queensland and New South Wales. The Australian Rugby Union has failed to spread the sport throughout the rest of the country. Rugby ranks 18th in popularity for children 14 and over.
Another fact is that Test matches and the professional league appear on paid television, representing an economic impediment to national awareness.
Recent Test Match Results
Since losing to the All Blacks in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, the Wallabies's record is six wins and nine losses, four of those defeats against England with three of the four suffered at home when England toured. Additionally, Australia has maintained a poor 3-15-2 head-to-head record against rival New Zealand in the past twenty contests.
It might be local apathy or the surge of soccer that have contributed to rugby’s falloff in a country previously regarded as one of the three main competitors to the All Blacks’ dominance on the world’s rugger pitches.
Whatever the combination of reasons, a lowering of present and future Australian rugby standards will have a negative effect on the status of world and southern hemisphere rugby.
The one positive note comes from an increase in girls' and women's rugby play, stemming from the Aussie Women winning the 7s gold medal in Rio last year.