Setting up a new Super rugby franchise in Melbourne will hinder the development of the game in Australia, according to the former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones. The Australians had an uplifting victory in their most recent outing, over South Africa, the world champions who sealed the Tri Nations crown a week later.
That triumph meant an alarming run of defeats was largely forgotten, but Jones feels a greater malaise in Australian rugby should not be glossed over. "We had a bad year when I was in charge in 2005 and we really haven't recovered," said Jones, who took the Wallabies to the 2003 World Cup final and is now coaching in Japan. "I think there are a number of reasons for that. I just don't think we have the depth of talent now to compete as well as we did previously. One of the problems in Australia is that every good young player is being chased by an Aussie Rules club, a league club or a rugby club. At the moment the other sports are winning."
To counter the problem, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) hope to inaugurate a new franchise in the Australian Rules-dominated city of Melbourne. The Super 14 format is set for a revamp when the current TV broadcasting deal expires in 2010. The 2011 version is likely to include an equal spread of five teams in each of the three nations - Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. SANZAR will make their decision on the site for the new team in October.
However, Jones fears another Australian side will only prove a burden on resources which had already been diluted after the Perth-based Western Force joined the competition in 2006. "It will hinder [the development of the game in Australia]," he said "When we had three teams in the Super 12, we were definitely competing with New Zealand, and considerably ahead of South Africa. "Since we have had four teams, we have basically got three weak teams and one strong team. With five, we are going to have four weak teams and one strong team.
"If you look at it in a very simple way, we have two development states in Australia - Queensland and New South Wales - which produce players. "Now we have ACT [Brumbies], the Force and possibly the new Melbourne side, that are all going to be recruiting. They are not going to produce any players in those areas - we know that. All they will do is suck players out from Queensland and New South Wales and make those states weaker. Queensland haven't been out of the bottom three for years."
Mark Sinderberry was chief executive at ACT when, as one of only three Australian franchises, they were finalists in 1997 and 2000, and winners in 2001. He feels the ARU will have to relax the regulations governing quotas of foreign players. "It is critical the new team is given an extended period to meet any domestic quotas and existing teams are given the opportunity to further recruit non-Aussies.