A ''WORRYING divide'' between the priorities of Super Rugby teams and the Wallabies is killing the success of both and must be bridged if rugby is to survive in Australia, a review of the sport's corporate governance has found.
The review titled, Strengthening the Governance of Australian Rugby, conducted by former federal sports minister Mark Arbib found the ARU and the Super Rugby franchises lacked the alignment needed for rugby to compete against the other football codes in Australia.
''There is currently a worrying divide between the business models of Super Rugby teams and the ARU … As a result, the very structure of Australian rugby has become a factor inhibiting the success of both the national and the Super Rugby teams,'' the report noted. ''Developing mechanisms to overcome this … must become a priority … with all of rugby's stakeholders, if rugby is to succeed.''
ARU chairman Michael Hawker said the board did not necessarily agree with Arbib's comments but recognised it was a view held by a number of people involved in rugby.
''The [review's] recommendations are that the code needs to work more harmoniously and closely together and there's no doubt that the current board is very much looking to endeavour to do that,'' Hawker said.
The review makes 15 recommendations, including that the ARU board be composed entirely of independent directors and that members' voting rights be changed to level the voting power of each state union and to also give each Super Rugby club a vote, plus the players, via the Rugby Union Players Association.
Hawker said such reforms would help unify disparate interests in the sport but ruled out a move towards a centralised operations, similar to those in New Zealand.
Where recent contract wranglings between the ARU and top Wallabies Will Genia and Quade Cooper have exposed weak spots in Australia's player contracting system, the NZRU contracts its players directly, then gives them top-ups if they make national teams.
The Arbib review found Australia's federated structure had exacerbated the divide between the two levels, as well as the sport's rapid transition to professionalism.
Hawker said Australia's geographic challenges and a smaller rugby profile, compared with New Zealand, meant ''central organisation but local delivery'' was the best model.
The reforms will need the backing of the NSW Rugby Union when they are put to a vote, under the existing membership, in December. NSW has a power of veto over any major constitutional or organisational change, while Queensland is the next most powerful stakeholder.
Nick Farr-Jones gave the review a preliminary green light but said he hoped a dilution of the union's voting rights would not pave the way for the rule of minority interests.
He also hoped that financial benefits of the reforms would find their way back into NSW, as it was Australia's biggest rugby breeding ground.
''I trust Michael Hawker and the board that when [rugby does] have the financial capacity, that some of the funding we have lost over recent years returns, and we can start to spread a bit of that among juniors, country and premiership rugby,'' Farr-Jones said.