Twiggy, here’s how we can get the Bledisloe Cup back

This is where a mere journalist tries to give a successful billionaire gratuitous investment advice: Mr Forrest, if you really want to help rugby union in Western , don’t throw scores of millions of dollars at the Western Force.
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Andrew Forrest offered the n Rugby Union $50 million to keep the WA franchise in the Super Rugby competition next year. It was a very generous offer, a passionate expression of support for the WA team. The excuse used by the ARU for rejecting the fortune – that the offer was “late”, as if the lockout laws were in force at the ARU boardroom – was lame.

Now “Twiggy” is promising to set up an alternative international competition for the Force This is an extraordinary development, a gesture of Russian oligarch proportions.

It’s a bit like ‘if you won’t let my kids play with you, I’ll hire some other kids who will’.

Twiggy’s “IPL of rugby” would be a second-rate competition without the first-rate sides – i.e. the Kiwis.

There is a not-unreasonable argument that the Super Rugby competition has become more than a little silly in trying to expand to five nations, that it could do better with a two-tier promotion-and-relegation structure. All the n franchises would be in second division at present, but with the hope of making first grade.

But a quick $50 million or $100 million for either a rebel competition or the ARU won’t really help WA or n rugby.

Mr Forrest, you didn’t become a multi-billionaire with a quick cash splash. Some of your earlier, er, “less fortunate” ventures were a bit like that.

You made the very big time by building Fortescue up from zilch. It took time, including some very difficult times, to finally get there.

So it is with n rugby right now. The game they play in heaven is going through hell here. Short-termism and petty fiefdoms have let it down. Those problems can’t be fixed quickly.

You’d be fooling yourself to think n rugby has anywhere near the depth required to be consistently competitive with the very best. One close test every few years does not a Bledisloe Cup make.

Money is certainly needed, but as a long-term investment in the game. Instead of taking money from the kids and amateurs, the professionals have to put money back into the base of the game. In mining terminology, there’s a lot of survey work required, vast mapping and sampling and a comprehensive drilling program before the gold can be mined.

Specifically, rugby has to peg out the kids. It’s been losing them to claim jumpers from other codes. They have to be fought for.

Here’s one simple investment that would eventually pay off more than a “rugby IPL”:

I’m a little rusty but back in the day when coaching junior rugby, only the relatively few elite private primary schools played competitive sport against each other. The state schools, the Catholic schools, did not. That seems not to have changed.

Change it. You can’t rely on parents taking their children to rugby instead of myriad other activities. You have to take the rugby to them. And you have to take it to the children who don’t have the parental support necessary to play any club sport.

(On a sideline once, I met a bloke who said his job was headmaster of a school that had being expelled from another school as its entrance requirement. He said 90-something per cent of his pupils had never played team sport.)

Provide the development officers to coach and organise mixed-team Walla-rugby (touch) competitions that run all winter. Provide the buses and the insurance and the grounds. Capture their sweet little hearts with the unbridled joy of running with and passing a rugby ball, of banding together against a common foe, of competing, of learning to win and lose.

The schools and teachers would love it – someone else taking the kids off their hands. Heavens, they let in AFL types just for catch-and-kick stuff. For reliable, regular, very professionally organised, wonderfully healthy sport for all shapes, sizes, skills and sexes – they’re yours and off to the staff room. The better teachers will want to be part of it themselves.

And the kids, oh, the kids more than love it. I’ve seen it happen twice in primary schools. Unfortunately they were just one-off tournaments, one a knock-out tackle comp, the other a half-day touch festival.

After a few weeks training, the mixed Walla-rugby team went so very close to winning the school a new TV. It was huge, as was the cheer squad.

As for the boys’ rugby, I’d like to tell you a little north shore Catholic school, with a core of club rugby boys bolstered by classmates quickly converted from soccer and Aussie Rules, overcame the odds of drawing a much larger school from rugby league heartland as their first opponents.

But they didn’t. They weren’t disgraced. They were certainly tackled. They were bruised and scraped. They never stopped. They scored tries, but not enough. And with red and green frogs all round after the game, they were happy. They’d all played rugby together. And not all of the heathens stayed with soccer thereafter.

Invest $50 million in rugby by making it cheap and welcoming for primary school boys and girls to play. Make junior club rugby much cheaper than the other codes. Ensure the highest standards of sportsmanship. Make it the game of choice.

Do that and rugby will grow, even in the hard-core AFL states. It will take years, but it would win Bledisloe Cups. Get enough cattle, enough enthusiasm, it will happen.

It’s called long-term thinking, the sort of thing that’s required to find an ore body, prove it up, and eventually mine it.

It’s not going out and buying a team or competition. Leave that to the Russians.

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