The Brumbies are a Canberra icon. They’re known globally for their innovative playing style and as the top feeder team for the Wallabies.
But it is exactly their Canberra-ness that has put their place on the global stage under threat in the ongoing fight to see which Australian team gets cuts from Super Rugby.
“We reflect community values. We’re very keen to be part of the community. We live here every day and we represent Canberra on the national stage,” said Brumbies CEO Michael Thomson.
It has always been said that the Brumbies were too good for the territory: the crowds weren’t big enough and the media market too small. Every year the interstate press calls for the team to move. Last year The Australian recommended western Sydney.
But now the pressure is coming from the league itself. Having put commercial concerns first for far too long, the quality of the Super Rugby competition has declined and TV ratings have fallen.
SANZAAR knows it has to shake things up and the return to a round-robin format has been trumpeted as one such device.
“There’s been a growing realisation that the structure has to be revitalised, which gives them two options: leave the number of teams as is, or go to a 15 team model which works better from a scheduling perspective,” Mr Thomson says.
“It’s thought that two teams from South Africa will be chopped and one from Australia. Then there’s a whole lot of speculation about who.
“There’s three Australian teams being discussed: Melbourne, Perth and us. We produce more Wallabies than any other team and more Wallaby coaches than any other. We’ve never been bailed out by the ARU. We’ve got the second highest viewership behind the Warratahs. But we come from a smaller catchment area.”
All this, of course, assumes that South Africa can get to a situation where they can axe two teams – which at this stage, is far from clear. But if they do, the Brumbies, along with the Rebels and the Force will be in the ARU’s crosshairs.
The issue for the Rebels and the Force, by contrast, is not the size of the cities they reside in – Perth and Melbourne are sizeable enough. The issue is that both cities are AFL-dominated and non-international rugby union struggles to draw numbers. They also have less club history than the Brumbies.
For all the worry about their place in Super Rugby, Mr Thomson says that morale is strong.
“I think everyone would like certainty. We’ve won our last two games and we’ve got a very young squad. We beat the Waratahs last week. We’re always happy when we’re winning and beating the Waratahs.”
It falls to Canberrans, then, to do their utmost to assure their team stays in Super Rugby. And use the fact that the Brumbies are from Canberra as a weapon rather than a shackle.
“Get out to the game. We are playing last year’s finalists, the Highlanders. We’ve got a young team that’s really trying hard.”
“The other is thing Canberrans can do is recognising and speaking positively about us as an organisation and helping out however they can.”
Plus500 Brumbies vs Highlanders
Venue: GIO Stadium Canberra, ACT
Date: Sat 25 Mar 2017, 7:40pm
Caption: top, a message that was sent out to fans and members earlier in the week.