The impact two of the best ever AFL and NRL grand finals had with TV audiences last weekend amid a Wallabies World Cup flop was another hard reminder for Rugby Australia boss Phil Waugh that his code has “a lot of work to do”.
Despite the Wallabies following those two epics in first Melbourne and then Sydney with a gritty World Cup win over Portugal in the early hours of Monday morning in France, Waugh conceded rugby faced a massive challenge to re-engage with Australian supporters.
The AFL and NRL grand finals drew a combined viewership of close to six million people across Saturday and Sunday, with both matches decided in the final minutes.
Meanwhile, the Wallabies, with their pool matches complete, are staring down the barrel of the earliest World Cup exit in Australian history, needing a miracle win for Portugal to progress to the quarter-finals.
As he addressed media in France, Waugh said the games put on by the two biggest codes in Australia rammed home the challenge in front of rugby.
“We’re here with our disappointment of this Rugby World Cup and you look back home, you’ve got probably one of the best AFL grand finals of all time and one of the best NRL grand finals of all time,” Waugh said in Saint-Etienne.
“We’re certainly not without our challenges but what we can do is control what we do in our performances and we haven’t done that.
“We’ve got two codes doing particularly well and then we have our performance, which is particularly disappointing to all Australians really. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Waugh was adamant sacking coach Eddie Jones, who has denied all links to the Japan job, was not the right move and said cutting Australian Super Rugby Pacific wouldn’t solve the issues with the game.
Instead, he said it was more about increasing the amount of international exposure for the current and next generation of Wallabies so when it came to the British and Irish Lions tour in 2025, then the home World Cup in 2027, they’d be ready to get the game rolling again.
“What we need to do is for those players that have just entered their international career, how do we actually get more and more competitive games?” he said.
“One of the challenges we have in Super Rugby Pacific is that you‘re probably playing the same style of rugby against New Zealand and Australian teams.
“What we really miss is that variation which South Africa brought and what northern hemisphere teams bring.
“The British and Irish Lions is going to be a huge challenge when you look at the growth of the north.
“I genuinely believe at the moment, whilst there‘s been some level of resistance, the majority of our stakeholders are on board with actually resetting the game.”