‘One input’: Rugby Australia’s huge Rebels admission ahead of Super Rugby season, Wallabies review imminent

In a fascinating admission on the eve of the Super Rugby season getting underway, Rugby Australia boss Phil Waugh says the Melbourne Rebels’ future in the tournament beyond 2024 could come down to whether they win or not.

Waugh also said the review of last year’s calamitous Wallabies season would be released imminently.

Sinking under more than $20 million of debt, the Rebels fell into voluntary administration late last month.

The decision led to Rebels chief executive Baden Stephenson, as well as nine others, being made redundant last week.

In a worrying sign about their long-term future, all high-performance staff, including coach Kevin Foote, had their contracts taken over by RA where they are due to expire at the end of the Super Rugby season on June 30.

Their financial struggles come after years of underperformance on the field, which has led to a drop-off in crowd attendance.

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The Rebels’ future remains clouded heading into the Super Rugby season. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

It has left Rugby Australia with much to consider given the governing body is struggling financially too and looking for ways to not only reignite the Super Rugby competition flame but also improve the on-field results of its franchises, as well as the Wallabies.

The complicated state of play comes as RA, as well as their SANZAAR partner New Zealand Rugby, attempt to nut out their respective broadcast deals, which don’t expire until the end of 2025 but are often fleshed out 18 months in advance.

Adding to the messy situation unfolding in the so-called sporting capital of Australia is Rebels general manager Nick Stiles has assembled arguably the Super Rugby franchise’s strongest roster, which has been bolstered by the recruitment of Wallabies Taniela Tupou and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto.

But all that hard work could be blown up suddenly if the Rebels don’t exist beyond the season.

Waugh, however, provided a ray of hope for the Rebels on Monday, as he admitted success on the field could play a part in determining their fate.

“It will be one input,” Waugh said, speaking at the official unveiling of Jo Yapp as the Wallaroos’ new – and first full-time – coach.

“I think there’s a lot of inputs into that conversation and that assessment as to what’s the best structure going forward from ‘25 and beyond.

“Clearly, performance across our five Super Rugby clubs will be an important input into making that decision.”

Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh said the Rebels’ on-field results this season could influence the Super Rugby franchise’s future. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

Likely helping the Rebels’ cause is an early season draw, which could allow Foote’s men to find some momentum.

While the Rebels will host last year’s semi-finalists the Brumbies, they will then take on two sides – Moana Pasifika and the Western Force – that finished outside the top eight in the 12-team competition, before hosting the Queensland Reds.

“As a young coach you probably don’t speak about winning as much, you say ‘process, process’, but winning is important,” Foote told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.

“It’s not lost on us, but we understand that it’s a long season and there’s a process but we do speak about winning and it is important and, given where the club’s at, it will definitely help.”

He added: “We’re using it to galvanise us more than distract us. There is distraction. If I stood here and said there wasn’t, I’d be lying to you. We know our potential and we want to live up to our potential. This is probably the strongest Rebels side we’ve assembled, so let’s focus on that.”

Helping the Rebels’ cause is that tickets are at long last available for purchase for the Brumbies opener.

“Really hoping that we get a good crowd out,” Foote said. “The boys have trained well, two great trial games, to fill the stadium would be really special for us.”

Not only will the clash see Tupou make his return to Super Rugby after missing last year’s season with the Reds due to an Achilles injury, it will also pit young playmakers Carter Gordon up against Noah Lolesio.

Lolesio made headlines for screaming Carter Gordon’s name after scoring in Melbourne against the Rebels.

But Gordon eventually got the last laugh, as he was selected ahead of Lolesio for the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign.

Foote said the opening clash of the year was personal.

“It is personal, I think it is personal, that’s the truth of it,” he said.

“There’s a new Wallabies coach on top of that, so they’ll be playing for positions. There’s the British and Irish Lions coming. There’s Wales Tests come July. It’s personal for us.”

Kevin Foote, (R), Nick Stiles (L) and Brad Wilkin with a fan at AAMI Park, on March 03, 2023, in Melbourne. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Waugh said the Wallabies’ review of last year’s failed World Cup, where Eddie Jones’ side missed the knockout stage for the first time, will be “socialised” by week’s end.

“As you know, there’s been a bit going on. So, hence the delay,” he said.

“You’ll find that a lot of the recommendations are fairly transparent with some of the actions that we’ve already done in terms of setting up the environment for success is a long way down the path of executing on some of those recommendations.

“The intent’s still the same as what it was when we launched the review, and we’ll get through that hopefully this week.”

Rugby Australia has appointed Peter Horne as director of high performance and Joe Schmidt as Wallabies coach over the past two months.

The review’s recommendations will land at around the same time Stan’s documentary about last year’s Wallabies campaign premieres on Thursday.

Asked whether he was happy with the final cut and Jones’ commentary that the Wallabies lacked the hardness of decades ago, Waugh said there was no greater transparency than bringing the national team into the lounge rooms of fans.

“I’ve always said that we’ll be pretty transparent around the way we’re going about things, and there’s nothing more transparent than getting inside the Wallabies environment,” he said.

“We’ve certainly made some appointments and some changes to the environment that will hopefully set us up for success going forward.”

Having deemed a pass mark at last year’s World Cup was a semi-final appearance, Waugh once again was more guarded around his expectations of Australia’s Super Rugby sides but said it was vital the franchises challenge their trans-Tasman rivals in the competition.

“There’s been challenges around our competitiveness in Super Rugby and we’ve seen that go through into the late stages of the tournament,” he said.

“Ideally, you see our five Super Rugby teams consistently winning and beating New Zealand teams.

“What does your metric look like as to success? I haven’t really got one. All I know is that every game you go into, we want to have our Australian side’s a genuine chance to win.

“I don’t want to be too optimistic but from early signs in the trials, it appears that we’ve prepared well.

“There’s a strong correlation between having a successful Wallaby team and our performance at Super Rugby level, and it’s important for our Super Rugby teams to set up this season for the Wallabies.”

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