Why (or how) the Wallabies overseas selection policy should work for everyone!

Cheika spot on to change the selection policy!

Over the past few weeks, a journalist in the media has taken specific fire at the overseas Wallabies selected. He then insinuated that the Wallabies’ poor performance is a direct result of their selection. Admittedly, I have ties to the players, via long standing personal and professional relationships but this opinion is so short sighted, incredibly ill informed and lacks an understanding of the overall dynamics.

Firstly, there are a number of factors that go into the decision of where a player plays their rugby:

Opportunity — where is the best opportunity to develop and play?

Coaches — do they have a long, strong relationship with a particular coach?

Money — where is the best financial return for their services?

Life style — Canberra or South of France? It’s a no brainer (but that’s not saying Canberra is that bad a place to live).

National ambitions — have they a realistic shot of being a Wallaby in a Rugby World Cup? If a RWC is in the window of the contract being offered, then where is best to put themselves in a position for selection?

Overseas selected Wallabies at the RWC

Stage of career — have they played 10 years in Australia and desire a change?

Family — it may sound amazing playing in Japan, but moving their wife/ partner and kids overseas may not be the best decision for their family.

These are all valid reasons. For the players who bring the most attention with them, like Giteau, Mitchell, AAC and Genia, where they now play their rugby, I would take an educated guess, is the result of many of the factors listed above.

Now, let me shine a light on the economics of the ARU and the market in which we, rugby, play in to offer some additional points of view.

We all know that the highest profile or highest valued rugby players in Australia are paid a top up salary by the ARU. This means that of the top 30 players, 10 are probably paid their true open market value (when I say true market value, I’m referring to the accurate value they would be paid for their services as a rugby player, the top dollar possible, factoring in offers from European and Japanese clubs).

Because of this, at least 20 of Australia’s top players are paid under market rates to stay in Australia to play for their country, reiterating my point as to why players choose to play rugby overseas.

The ARU are essentially having their cake and eating it too and in this area, I’m glad they are. They are being smart financially and realistic that we will not see a mass exodus of players, as many are just not good enough to be attractive to overseas clubs.

Think about it like this:

Overseas Wallaby ‘X’ is worth $1M a season on an open market (Japan, France and the UK for example).

The ARU can afford to pay him $300k top up, plus he receives his State contract of $400k, a combined total of $700k. This is $300k under his open market value, if X stays in Australia to play (this is guaranteed money and not taking into account match payments and bonuses paid in both domestic and international competitions).

So if X is paid $1M per season by an overseas club and is also available to play for the Wallabies, essentially the ARU is having the overseas club pay the salary of one of their top assets, in effect subsidising the ARU.

The ARU is a leaking bucket when it comes to financial matters, so any ability to off set the operational costs of one of their primary assets is surely a positive? Full access and no financial outlay.

And why is this good for the overall status of Australian rugby? For two reasons:

1. Development of younger players at Super Rugby Level

This season the Waratahs used a number of exciting young players. Players that for all intents and purposes will be great players and potential Wallabies in years to come (I’m sure many agree Jack Dempsey is not too far away from a Wallaby jersey). But I also think, and most will agree, that there is a big gap between the international level of rugby and super rugby, and the majority of players are not ready for test rugby, as of today.

With the older Australian players based over seas, they are in fact vacating their provincial “seats” in which younger players can then develop. Younger players are able to stay closer to home environments, play club rugby and transition smoothly into the world of professional rugby.

2. Investment in wider rugby

Taking my example above on the breakdown of salaries, if the ARU was forced to try and compete with the salaries on the open market, they would would be broke. For example, to make the top 20 players in Australia competitive on the open market, based on a sliding scale from players ranked 11- 20, with a combined average ARU top up of $125k, the total additional out going is $1.25M total.

Now, by allowing players to play overseas while still being eligible for the Wallabies, the ARU theoretically has the ability to spend $1.25M in club rugby which, in my opinion, is critically under funded and under valued as a true path and development ground for future Wallaby stars.

Brett Papworth recent wrote an article on the systematic failing of the ARU and while I don’t agree with some of his points we do share a very firm belief on two.

  1. Club rugby is the key to much of rugby’s success in Australia. And, it is diabolically under funded.
The pure joy of winning Sydney’s club rugby top prize

2. The decision-making at the top of the ARU is based on self interest, ensuring continued high pay days without any regard for the health of the game overall, innovation or their renumeration linked to performance. I read recently that the ARU engaged a very highly paid group of consultants to tell them all the things that were wrong. Shouldn’t this be the job of the appointed staff members and not for them to outsource? I can only think what junior clubs in Sydney and Brisbane could have done with the money spent on consultants, which will only be cannon fodder for blame when failing continues.

Under the current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) the Wallaby players are allocated 27% of revenues to salaries (if that sounds like a lot, it’s 57% in the NBA!). So, for the ARU to be able to hold on to the players it wants and not be at the mercy of foreign clubs, it needs to ensure its revenues dramatically increase. This includes a digital department that is adequately resourced and staffed (not the laughing stock it currently is), extracting the most from its rights deals across all platforms — tv, free to air and pay/subscription based, print, radio, digital etc. Plus a commercial department that is renumerated on performance and not as they have been in the past.

If you want to talk about cultural impact, that’s another post all together, but personally I’d take a group of guys that have a voice, an opinion and personality over a group of scripted, media trained robots any day.

The Burning Question — The “Other” Rugby Show, with Hoiles, AAC and Drew M

(If you happened to miss the article where this particular journo posted his musings, check out the Roar.com)

So, my negative journalist friends, I hope this offers an alternative perspective to your constant lambasting of Australian players and officials.

I also make a very strong call for investment in new sports journalists who can bring balance in their reporting and know that their ability to market the game plays a big role in its success.

Australia’s next crop of local media stars!
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