Dan McKellar is calling on Rugby Australia to take advantage of "natural tribalism" to bridge the gap between club rugby and the elite level, backing John I Dent Cup clubs to match it with the best in the country.
The ACT Brumbies coach is adamant John I Dent Cup clubs can compete with their Sydney and Brisbane-based rivals. Now he wants Canberra's club competition streamed on Stan Sport akin to the much-vaunted Shute Shield and Hospital Cup.
Because he believes the standards of ACT rugby's six premier clubs are on the rise as he throws his weight behind a national knockout tournament between Australia's best grade outfits.
McKellar took a walk down memory lane at Viking Park leading into a Super Rugby AU qualifying final against the Western Force at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night.
He spoke of his time at the helm of the Tuggeranong Vikings, who upon his arrival a decade ago were already "miles ahead" of clubs McKellar had been coaching against in Queensland, and the importance John I Dent Cup clubs have on the Brumbies' future.
MORE RUGBY UNION
Then he backed the introduction of an Australian club championship to fill the void left by the NRC, saying "that next level of competition is important".
"I've always been a big supporter of that because you have that natural tribalism," McKellar said.
"People want to go and watch Queanbeyan play Randwick, or Tuggeranong play Brothers or Souths in Brisbane.
"Club rugby is thriving, isn't it? Is it possible to take advantage of that platform and use that natural tribalism and the support that already exists for those teams?
"Having that next tier of competition is important moving forward. I think that [Cup-style tournament] is fair, then everyone is involved and the best survive.
"You'll get your upsets which will create a whole lot of interest, like we see in soccer both overseas and in Australia. We see who the best of the best is."
McKellar coached the Vikings to an unofficial Australian club championship in 2012 when the John I Dent Cup champions beat reigning Brisbane premiers Sunnybank and Shute Shield runners-up Sydney University. Sydney premiers Eastwood declined to play.
So as for the thought of getting John I Dent Cup games on Stan Sport's platform, "that's a fair statement".
Critics could argue that success Tuggeranong enjoyed against interstate rivals was nine years ago, and they would be right. But as Tuggeranong continue to rise, so too do their local rivals who are refusing to "sit on their hands".
"You've just got to look around at the facilities, after I was here for one year we put a gym in and started the V Rugby academy. A lot of professional players and very good club players have come through that system since," McKellar said.
"It's great to see the facilities they've got out at Queanbeyan now with the gym there. Other teams within the John I Dent Cup certainly haven't sat on their hands and complained.
"They've understood if they want to compete with the top teams in the competition, and generally Tuggeranong are one of them, then they need to make adjustments themselves.
"Every program across the board now, the quality of coaching they get at John I Dent Cup level is significantly higher and that's a good thing for the local rugby community and obviously the Brumbies."
SUPER RUGBY AU QUALIFYING FINAL
Saturday: ACT Brumbies v Western Force at Canberra Stadium, 7.45pm. Tickets from Ticketek. Broadcast: Live on Gem and Stan Sport.
ACT Brumbies squad: 1. James Slipper, 2. Folau Fainga'a, 3. Allan Alaalatoa (c), 4. Darcy Swain, 5. Cadeyrn Neville, 6. Rob Valetini, 7. Rory Scott, 8. Pete Samu, 9. Nic White, 10. Noah Lolesio, 11. Tom Wright, 12. Irae Simone, 13. Len Ikitau, 14. Andy Muirhead, 15. Tom Banks. Replacements: 16. Lachlan Lonergan, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Tom Ross, 19. Nick Frost, 20. Luke Reimer, 21. Ryan Lonergan, 22. Reesjan Pasitoa, 23. Mack Hansen.
Western Force squad: 1. Tom Robertson, 2. Feleti Kaitu'u, 3. Santiago Medrano, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Sitaleki Timani, 6. Fergus Lee-Warner, 7. Kane Koteka, 8. Brynard Stander, 9. Tomas Cubelli, 10. Domingo Miotto, 11. Jorda Olowofela, 12. Kyle Godwin (c), 13. Richard Kahui, 14. Toni Pulu, 15. Jake Strachan. Replacements: 16. Andrew Ready, 17. Angus Wagner, 18. Greg Holmes, 19. Ryan McCauley, 20. Tim Anstee, 21. Ian Prior, 22. Henry Taefu, 23. Jack McGregor.
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