Sydney (AFP) – Australia’s rugby chief Raelene Castle said Sunday she was looking forward to the new season without the distractions of the off-field controversies that plagued last year.
Last year’s season proved a disaster for Australian rugby, with the drawn-out damaging culling of Western Force from the competition and Australian teams losing all 26 of their games to New Zealand opponents.
Castle, who has taken over as Rugby Australia’s new chief executive, said the country’s four teams were trying to move on from the nightmare season.
“That’s the bit that’s been difficult, it’s been a tumultuous 12 months and I think all rugby fans recognise that there was some challenges in that process but what they want to talk about is rugby,” Castle said at the Super Rugby launch.
“They don’t want to talk about administrative off-field issues, they want to talk about good quality rugby and we’ve certainly got some great combinations and new stories to start those conversations.”
The Wallabies’ home series against Ireland is less than four months away and Castle emphasised the importance of the provincial competition in that process.
“For our high-profile international rugby, Super Rugby’s where it starts,” she said.
“That’s where people get excited, where we unlock new stars, that’s where we start to see the debates, the controversies and all of the things that drive that really positive media.
Castle said the competition would also help to produce new stars that would spice up the Wallabies’ team selection process.
“If you can get that public momentum through, where everyone’s been behind their Super teams, it’s just such a much stronger building block as you move into the Wallabies season,” she added.
Super Rugby returns to 15 teams in 2018, with three conferences and a tweaked finals system.
The winners of each conference will automatically qualify for the quarter-finals, with the next five teams across all conferences also through as wildcards.
Wallabies and Waratahs skipper Michael Hooper has welcomed the return of more local derbies, with franchises guaranteed home and away matches against Aussie teams.
“It’s great that we get to play the Aussie teams again, interesting to see how it’s received by the public,” Hooper said.
“It’s a bit of a shame that we go straight overseas and can’t give the fans other than that Stormers game a real nice introduction, but we’ll be home for the back end and a lot of it.”
The Australian Super Rugby season kicks off on February 23 with the Melbourne Rebels hosting the Queensland Reds.