Australian rugby seems to be full of contentious debates at the moment – and here is another that will gather steam over the next three years, I am sure.
After the pool stage exit from the World Cup last month, Rugby Australia has many questions that it needs to ask itself to get itself in order.
With the home tournament on the horizon in four years, these upcoming years will prove to be a serious crossroads for the governing body as they prepare for the tournament. We will all be in nervous anticipation for what will be to come as the final takes place on our shores for the first time in 24 years.
However, the question remains which venue/city will get the honour of hosting the final?
While venues have not been locked in, requirements from the governing body stipulate a minimum 60,000 capacity for World Rugby’s biggest match, leaving only three stadiums, including Optus Stadium in Perth, the MCG in Melbourne and Accor Stadium in Sydney.
Now while Perth is being considered with its time zone for European audiences making it a possibility, it does appear a two-horse race between the latter options.
Now with any luck, the Wallabies with coach (yet to be decided) hopefully helping lift the Webb Ellis Cup into the night sky. The question remains, in my mind, whether it will be towards the skies of Sydney or in the metropolis of Melbourne.
The case of Sydney is very much an easy one to argue for rugby union fans in Australia. They have held it before in 2003 which saw England beat Australia and did a fairly good job in hosting.
It is the biggest rectangular stadium in Australia which is designed for rugby to be the primary users of the ground. This means from a spectator’s point of view that fans will get a better view and will look far better on broadcast compared to the oval-shaped MCG.
Also having the final in the state which has the biggest share of registered rugby union players, it feels like the natural choice to acknowledge the heartland of the game with the hosting duties.
On all reports, it does appear likely that it will held there with the shortlist of venues from Rugby Australia containing the Sydney-based stadium and not the MCG.
While it may be easy to dimmish the idea of a Melbourne final in 2027 particularly within the heartland of rugby union, the further you look into it, the possibility becomes more realistic.
On a pure numbers basis, Melbourne is clear by the distance of James Slipper trying to chase down a prime Brian Habana on a breakaway…absolute miles.
While it is unlikely that the full 100,024 would be in use with requirements for security and the media required by World Rugby, it is still likely to be in the 95,000+ range.
This would still give at least another 13,000 people able to attend the match compared to Accor Stadium where that capacity may just reach above 82,000. The extra revenue that this would generate would certainly assist in generating the biggest profit imaginable.
The relationship between the Victorian Government and Rugby Australia is also a relatively strong one. The investment that the Victorian government has made into rugby union as shown in their estimated $20 million, eight-year deal back in 2017 to help develop the game in the state by having six test matches held in the state.
From the point of view of Australian Rugby, having the final in Melbourne could help further grow the game within the state and thus drive participation rates in the sport.
While playing in Sydney would help reaffirm the supporter base of Rugby Union in Australia, the final being played in Melbourne might have the ability to expand the reach of the game and leave a lasting impact beyond the six weeks of the tournament in the Garden State.
In this tale of two cities, it depends on what you value.
If it is purely on capacity and the economic side, then the Melbourne Cricket Ground is a no-brainer due to the roughly 15,000 seats difference between it and Stadium Australia.
Even if you sell 90 per cent of all tickets, that is still more than a packed-out Accor Stadium. If it is purely about making sure that you stay in rugby heartland, then Sydney is a no-brainer.
Playing in a stadium that is purpose-built and where the game is most popular, gives respect to the main contributors to the game itself.
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But if we are going to make the hassle of putting it after the AFL and NRL seasons are finished to make sure it gets it clear running, then in turn we need to make sure that we can get as many spectators who may be distracted by both codes seasons to turn up and watch whether on the telly or in person.
We need to ensure that the biggest games like the final have the biggest capacity to get behind it to help capture as much interest as possible.
If we want to go down that route, then the final should be played in Melbourne.