Peter Bills: Dwindling interest a concern for southern hemisphere rugby

It’s a sign of the times in southern hemisphere rugby.

In Sydney, Australia this week tickets go on sale for the Wallabies’ two home Test matches in the city in July this year. Some of the prices asked are a reflection of rugby union’s on-going struggle in Australia. In any of the northern hemisphere nations, they would be cause for great alarm.



The adult ticket price for the Tri-Nations Test match against South Africa at Stadium ANZ on July 23 has been cut from Aus$59 to $20 (around £14). The child’s ticket price is down from Aus$30 to $20.



For the game against Samoa a week earlier at the same venue, prices are even cheaper. A family of five, with either two adults and three children or one adult and four kids, can see that match for just Aus$50 (about £36). Admittedly, these would not be the best seats in the house. But you take the point.



It is a comment on the realities of trying to get spectators out to rugby union Test matches in Australia, where rival sports such as rugby league and AFL continue to take a huge chunk of the sporting market. This is a problem of long standing in Australia and it has got worse for the union authorities in recent times.



Admittedly, the venue, Stadium ANZ way out in Sydney’s western suburbs and the site of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, does not help. It is not popular, is a long way from the city and has no local identity or character even when you get there.



Even so, rugby union bosses in northern hemisphere countries like England, Ireland, Wales etc. would be horrified at the idea of offering so heavily discounted tickets for any international matches. The authorities at places like Twickenham rarely do it for any major game, yet the crowds continue to pour in.



Last Saturday, for example, an England side comprising almost entirely second string or young players for the future met the Barbarians. It was a weak Barbarians team by their standards, a decidedly low key affair with the top notch players very few and far between.



South Africa’s Ruan Pienaar, who played the whole match at scrum half inside Frenchman Freddie Michalak, was one of the few real class acts on show.



Likewise, Joe van Niekerk who helped set up the Barbarians winning try in their 38-32 win. But despite this low key affair, 38,680 tuned up at Twickenham. In Sydney, I doubt there would have been half that number paying at the gates.



In the south of France at the weekend, they played the semi-finals of the French Championship, both in Marseille at the 60,000 capacity Stade Velodrome. The two matches, Stade Toulouse v ASM Clermont Auvergne and Racing Metro Paris v Montpellier, attracted a combined audience of 113,531.



Alas, on the other side of the world, unions such as Australia and New Zealand can only dream of such support and financial riches.



Others, like Fiji, claim they cannot even afford to send their team to New Zealand for the World Cup later this year. But you do wonder about Fiji. Contacts tell me there is now virtually no interest in the XV a side game in the Fijian islands – people only want to see Sevens.



And what has happened to all the many millions of euros the IRB say they have poured into Fijian rugby over many years? It was supposed to go to developing the game and strengthening the Fijian union. How they claim not to have any money left remains a mystery.



But the wider point is one worthy of much consideration. It cannot be healthy for the sport world-wide that money flows like a mountain stream in one hemisphere, while in the other, a lack of support even in a country like Australia continues to be a problem.



In New Zealand, recently, for example, RWC officials admitted they had sold less than half the tickets available for the World Cup games. Sure, all the New Zealand games are sell-outs but there are plenty of tickets available for most of the others.



Selling tickets to a sceptical rugby public in both New Zealand and Australia is proving a real headache.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...