Australian rugby awaits watershed decision from World Rugby Council
SPOTLIGHT: Two years after financial turmoil forced serious consideration of a return to amateurism, Australian rugby will be looking to the World Rugby Council to deliver a watershed moment for the game Down Under on Thursday.
At a meeting in Dublin, the council will decide the host countries of five World Cups with Australia identified as the “preferred candidate” for the 2027 men’s edition as well as the women’s showpiece two years later.
The financial windfall from the former would go a long way to fixing the financial problems at Rugby Australia (RA), which lost AUS$27.1 million in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and another AUS$4.5 million last year.
With the added bonus of a lucrative visit from the British and Irish Lions in 2025, RA will be presented with a golden opportunity to try to fix some of the issues that have plagued the game for the best part of a decade.
One of those is getting the best and most talented young players to choose the XV-man game over the far more popular codes locally, Rugby League and Australian Rules football.
Australia captain Michael Hooper, while conceding the 2027 World Cup would be beyond him personally, suggested the promise of big global events on home soil, including the 2032 Olympic Sevens in Brisbane, would be quite a lure.
“What an opportunity for rugby in Australia if that was to come through,” he told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday in anticipation of Thursday’s decisions.
“What a time to be a part of rugby for some of our younger guys, or some kids even still at school, to be part of that great era for Australian rugby.”
Along with the financial issues, Australian rugby has also struggled with a lack of sustained success on the field to drive interest in the game since the Wallabies reached the 2015 World Cup Final.
Although bigger Tests will come when England tour for three Tests in July, and the Wallabies face New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina in the Rugby Championship, there have been some signs of green shoots in Super Rugby.
Where Australian teams managed only two wins in 25 contests against New Zealand’s sides last year, they have already won six in three rounds of trans-Tasman matches this season.
“It’s a bit of a different narrative for Australian rugby,” added Hooper, who helped the Waratahs to a stunning upset over the Crusaders two weeks ago.
“There’s certainly a hunger about what the teams are wanting to do, and the desperation in how they’re playing, I think. That’s been pretty noticeable.”