The All Blacks demolition of the Wallabies in this year’s Bledisloe Cup series is surely evidence enough that more needs to be done in the lower tiers of Australian Rugby.
A key component is the National Rugby Championship, which gets underway next weekend with the Canberra Vikings taking on Queensland Country at Viking Park. The NRC, in its fifth season, gives Australia that crucial second tier below Super Rugby.
The second level is well entrenched in South Africa and New Zealand with the Currie Cup and the Mitre 10 Cup. Australia, to a certain extent, has been playing catch up. The Australian Rugby Union launched the ill-fated Australian Rugby Championship in 2007 before it was axed after just one season because of ballooning costs. It was then resurrected in a revamped format with a new sponsor in 2014.
The Vikings’ role in this competition can’t be underestimated after the many barriers placed in front of previous Canberra teams in national, Sydney and Brisbane competitions. The ACT has been treated poorly at times over the years with schoolboy teams excluded, while the treatment of Canberra Kookaburras and the Vikings did little to progress the code in Canberra. At one stage, in a bid to play in the Brisbane competition after being excluded from Sydney, the Vikings were forced to pay the travel and accommodation costs of Brisbane teams when they played in Canberra.
The NRC has provided Canberra with a level playing field.
This competition is vital to provide a clear pathway for young local players seeking to play Super Rugby and the Wallabies. If Canberra didn’t have a team, the chances are these promising juniors such as Tom Ross, Mack Hansen and Ryan Lonergan, would be forced to play elsewhere for the next two months even though they are contracted to the Brumbies. It also provides an opportunity for players such as Ben Hyne – who missed the Super Rugby season with a knee injury – a chance to show Brumbies’ coach Dan McKellar what he is capable of doing against an opposition higher than club level.
There has, at times, been disquiet in ACT clubs over the fact that the team is called the Vikings. Some have suggested it had the perception of simply being a Tuggeranong team representing Canberra.
More recently though that opposition has dropped considerably as the Vikings’ organisation moved to reassure rival clubs that it was a team truly representing Canberra.
September 1: Canberra Vikings vs Queensland Country at Viking Park, 5 pm. Entry is free.
September 8: Canberra Vikings vs Sydney at Concord Oval, 3 pm
September 16: Canberra Vikings vs Western Force at Viking Park, 3 pm. Entry is free.
September 23: Canberra Vikings vs NSW Country Eagles at Armidale, 1 pm.
September 29: Canberra Vikings vs Melbourne Rising at Viking Park, 7 pm. Entry is free.
October 6: Canberra Vikings vs Fiji Drua at Lautoka, Fiji, 3 pm.
October 14: Canberra Vikings vs Brisbane City at Easts Rugby Club, Brisbane, 2 pm.