Cash-strapped Oz look for RWC boost

2015-10-28 10:03

Sydney - Cash-strapped Australian rugby is banking on the Wallabies defying the odds and toppling the mighty All Blacks in Saturday's Rugby World Cup final to help boost its popularity and profile in a crowded sports market.

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The Australian Rugby Union, which reported a $4.5 million deficit last year, badly needs the globe's second-ranked team to be crowned world champions as it battles bigger and better-resourced football codes across the country.

Australia is often described as one of the most competitive sports markets in the world, entertaining four well-supported football codes, all jostling for media and fan support.

Rugby union ranks fourth and last behind Australian Rules, rugby league and soccer in crowd numbers, participation and media coverage, illustrating the hurdles it faces.

This is despite considerable success on the field, with the Wallabies winning two World Cups and reaching the final on home soil in 2003.

Researcher Gary Morgan said Australians clearly prefer to watch Aussie Rules, which snares about 41 percent of the market, than the other codes.

"The Australian Football League has a clear lead over all the other football codes in Australia," he noted.

"The National Rugby League is the closest challenger with 6.73 million viewers (35.3 percent), well ahead of soccer - 4.01 million (21 percent) - and rugby union - 3.53 million (18.5 percent)."

Below the Wallabies sit five Super Rugby franchises which all struggle financially, given the expense of constant travel to South Africa and New Zealand for the southern hemisphere provincial competition.

In a sign of the tough times, the ARU last year controversially levied Aus$200 from every junior and senior club in the country to be used towards helping the sport prosper. Although only a small outlay, the move caused rancour among the rugby fraternity.

And while other countries, like Japan, boast record television audiences for the World Cup, the Wallabies matches have not generated the same interest.

Coupled with early morning kick-offs -- the final starts at 18:00 on Saturday, Sydney time - it has contributed to muted support for Australia at the World Cup, despite coach Michael Cheika's rallying calls for the country to get behind the team.

"We're really happy that our fans are enjoying watching us play, that's really important to us. We want them to live it with us," Cheika said this week.

Australian rugby and the Wallabies can claw back some popularity by winning the Webb Ellis Trophy at Twickenham against an All Black side that enjoys feverish support at home, where rugby union is the dominant sport.

There are plenty of people willing on the Wallabies, with the #showyourgold hashtag aimed at drumming up support on Twitter.

"Wallaby fans. Time to #showyourgold. Hang your Wallaby flags, scarves, whatever outside," Green and Gold Rugby tweeted.

The Wallabies official Twitter feed was also doing its bit, saying on Wednesday: "It's time for young and old to get behind #Wallabies".

It urged the public to retweet#StrongerasOne and let them know which venues and bars will be showing the final live. But only a handful of people had responded.

The Wallabies' World Cup success has taken many people by surprise and is largely thanks to the hard-love coaching of Michael Cheika, who took charge a year ago.

The turnaround follows a disastrous 2011 World Cup campaign and an embarrassing 41-16 defeat to surrender the 2013 British and Irish Lions series, both under New Zealand's Robbie Deans.

But after 10 winless internationals against the All Blacks, they beat them 27-19 in Sydney in August on the way to clinching the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship.

Much is now riding on the outcome of Saturday's showdown, and not just in the popularity stakes. Each member of the 31-man squad is on a $71 000 win bonus.

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