10 July 2024

No other option: Rugby Australia takes control of the Brumbies' Super Rugby program

| Tim Gavel
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Brumbies CEO Phil Thomson, Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh and Brumbies chair Matt Knobbs

Brumbies CEO Phil Thomson, Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh and Brumbies chair Matt Nobbs at the announcement of Rugby Australia’s plans for the Brumbies Super Rugby programs. Photo: Tim Gavel.

Just how close the Brumbies came to folding we may never know, but there was a palpable sense of relief with the announcement that Rugby Australia would be taking control of the Super Rugby program.

Under the partnership from 1 August, Rugby Australia will own 100 per cent of the Super Rugby programs.

Rugby Australia will take over the debt being carried by the Brumbies. There is a guarantee that the Brumbies will stay in Canberra. The ACT and Southern NSW will run community rugby, including the John I Dent Cup.

Two boards will be established: one to run the Brumbies, the other to run community rugby.

To an outsider, there will be no visible change.

The ACT Brumbies versus the Highlanders at GIO Stadium in the Super Rugby Quarter Final

The Brumbies have had financial difficulties for years. Photo: Jayzie Photography.

Underneath the surface is where the real action will take place, with Rugby Australia working in partnership with Canberra-based staff on the high-performance program, sponsorship and marketing.

The aim is to streamline some functions.

It’s been a battle financially for the Brumbies for a number of years with dwindling crowds and a reduction in television revenue hitting its bottom line.

CEO Phil Thomson was asked at yesterday’s (9 July) announcement whether the club would have survived without the intervention of Rugby Australia with this model.

“No, basically, we wouldn’t have,” he said.

“We looked at options around capital investment. It was hard to get that across the line. We’ve been running a fine line for a while now. We’ve had the support of Rugby Australia to get us to this period and the time is right to move forward from the 1st of August.”

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Brumbies Chair Matt Nobbs concedes the financial position has created plenty of angst: “We’ve all had those nights, three o’clock in the morning, staring at the ceiling.”

Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh said the centralised model has worked in New Zealand and Ireland.

With the Brumbies on board, there’s no reason why it can’t work in Australia.

Waugh emphasised they want the Brumbies to survive and stay in Canberra.

“The Brumbies have been Australia’s most successful franchise in Super Rugby. They are globally recognised. Having a footprint in this market is really important. It is one of our really strong regions.”

Both Rugby Australia and the Brumbies concede that negotiations around the centralised model got off to a rocky start, but a change in personnel and mindset resulted in the breakthrough.

There is still plenty of work to be done and questions to be answered.

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Rugby Australia will fill four seats on the new company board to run the Brumbies. There will be a players’ rep and representation from the ACT and Southern NSW.

The new company will also run the Brumbies Super W and Brumbies Academy programs.

Then there is the makeup of the second board to run community rugby in Canberra.

Questions will be raised around Rugby Australia’s influence on rugby in Canberra: will they move players to strengthen other franchises? What role will RA have in appointing coaches? What happens after the completion of the Super Rugby agreement between Australia and New Zealand in 2030? Who retains the rights to the name ‘ACT Brumbies’, and what will happen to the staff who currently run the Brumbies operations in Canberra?

I have been a sceptic of Rugby Australia taking over the Brumbies Super Rugby programs, but I’m also a realist.

Given the financial position, I don’t believe there was any other option.

Original Article published by Tim Gavel on Riotact.

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