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Could a breakaway rugby union competition work in the Southern Hemisphere?

What are the options for the Western Force as the courts give them little help?


Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest is not short of a dollar or two. He is also not short on grand schemes and crazy ideas he forces into being through hard work and use of that billion dollar fortune he has put together. Could Forrest’s next move be creating a Southern Hemisphere rugby competition out of nothing to give the Western Force a way to still exist in the top tier of a professional rugby union league?

The first thing to note here is that we are assuming all legal and administrative hurdles are cleared for this competition to come into fruition. That means the right sanctioning by the unions and governing bodies involved and – crucially it means that the players joining the league would still be eligible to play for their countries international sides.

These are giant hurdles that will be difficult to get past – assuming the league ever gets beyond being a discussion topic over a pint – but they are assumed to be on board for the point of this article.

The idea

There are some very powerful men in play here that are massively frustrated with SANZAAR and the people at Super Rugby for slicing their team out of the competition. Much of this aggravation comes from the fact that the Western Force met all the goals and benchmarks set to them when they entered Super Rugby, yet they were culled ahead of the Melbourne Rebels. That is the same Rebels team that has yet to make a similar impact in their region of Australia.

Forrest is the driving personality here (as he is a Western Force backer) but there are other names involved, including Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan. If no suitable resolution is found for the Force – something that is looking increasingly unlikely – then the odds of a rival league springing up increase.

For said league to be a success it would need to hit on all the perceived problems with Super Rugby and use them to its advantage. A criterion that would be met on the back of Forrest alone is having money. While funding an entire league would be a massive financial drain, Forrest could easily support a single club and he has contacts all over the region that he could hit up for funding and sponsorships. This is especially true if you look at some of the initially interested parties.

Team distribution would be a key part of the strategy. While it has been mentioned that South Africa would be an option for a new team, this would be shortsighted. One of the giant problems Super Rugby faces is the sheer distance between Australia/New Zealand and South Africa, and the different time zones that kill their fixtures as a spectacle. Staying out of South Africa (at the beginning at least) would seem to be a smarter play.

The league instead would need to hit those nations that feel left out. Pacific Island franchises would not necessarily bring in much revenue, but the island populations would get behind their sides in a way you just don’t see in Super Rugby. A team in Fiji or Samoa (or both) would bring new life to the sport, new fans, and give players on the islands a reason to stay home and ply their trade.

Southeast Asia is another region that has already shown interest in the plan. The Hong Kong Rugby Union immediately jumped on board even though the concept is still very much in its formative state. Being in the same time zone as Perth is a massive bonus, and the union has been looking at putting a team in the professional Japanese league for some time.

This leaves New Zealand. There is no way to make any sort of league like this work without some Kiwi participation. The beauty here is that there are so many good players at the provincial level in New Zealand that another professional franchise – and one with potentially massive spending power – could fill out a team with talent quickly.

Ultimately, it is the players in the league that would decide its fate. If Forrest comes in with some kind of monster salary cap per team, then maybe he could tempt over one or two key players from Super Rugby. From there the league would grow organically and – with the right marketing and TV deals – it could become a legitimate destination for the world’s best.

The league will probably never come into being and if it did, it would probably never work. But, and this is a big but, no one is happy with SANZAAR and Super Rugby and there are many, many people inside and out of the game that would love to see that competition fall apart and a newer, better revamped one take over.

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Steve Wright

Rugby Union editor at RealSport.

Steve is a devotee to all things rugby union with writing being just one way of showing his love for the game. He also plays for the highly successful Wichita Barbarians during XVs season, before taking his talents South (in the style of LeBron James) to play sevens for the HEB Hurricanes out of Dallas, Texas.

When not writing or playing rugby, Steve is found playing or watching soccer, or watching any one of dozens of other sports as an admitted competition junkie. He also finds time to release his inner nerd as a lover of all things gaming (board and video.)

Track down more of Steve's work at websites such as HeroSports.com, RuntoftheWeb.com, and TheGamer.com.

Could a breakaway rugby union competition work in the Southern Hemisphere?

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