On behalf of the Rugby Australia Board, players and the team here at Rugby Australia, I would like to thank you all for your support throughout 2021.
Each individual in our sport makes an often-unrecognised contribution that underpins the very fabric of our game. This contribution has not only helped Rugby in this country survive arguably one of its most turbulent periods in history but has also helped it thrive.
While there were many challenges in 2021, it was a year filled with exciting milestones, as we welcomed a new broadcast partner in Stan Sport/Nine, celebrated a new major sponsor of the Wallabies and Wallaroos in Cadbury, saw our Australian Sevens teams represent our nation at a second Olympic Games, successfully delivered our domestic Test schedule despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and saw an increase in boys and girls playing Rugby across the country.
A new era for Australian Rugby
This year will forever be remembered as a moment in which Rugby’s footprint in the Australian sporting landscape changed dramatically, as it marked the first time within Super Rugby’s history that our game was available on free-to-air TV, thanks to an exciting new broadcast partnership with Stan Sport and Nine.
The return of Super Rugby AU and the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition which followed saw TV audiences up an average of 144% across the season (not inclusive of those who streamed on Stan Sport).
This Stan Sport/Nine partnership ushered in a new era for our game and its impact was also reflected in community Rugby, as we saw a surge of 16.4% in community registrations throughout the Super Rugby season compared to the previous year.
Additionally, the 2021 Super Rugby AU Final saw the biggest crowd for an Australian derby in almost 20 years, as the Queensland Reds took home the title at Suncorp Stadium in front of 41,637 passionate fans.
This season finale also peaked nationally on free-to-air television at a staggering 464,000 viewers during the dramatic final stages. With the average audience up 232% from the 2020 final.
To all the fantastic team at Nine and Stan – we can’t thank you enough for re-energising our game this year.
While great inroads have been made to recognise, drive awareness, and celebrate First Nation’s culture within Rugby through our Wallabies jersey, we took this a step further in 2021 with our inaugural First Nations Round celebrated across Super Rugby AU.
We are looking forward to a new wave of Rugby as Super Rugby Pacific kicks off in February and we hope you enjoy the new competition format and welcoming the Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua to Super Rugby in 2022.
Community Rugby Update
Much like 2020, this year was once again disrupted for a large number of our community participants, with lockdowns in most of our States and Territories. However, despite all the challenges, our community again remained resolute.
We saw an overall 7% increase in participation across the country, with all but one of our Member Unions boasting a significant increase in their overall participation figures compared to both 2019 and 2020. On this note, I would like to recognise and thank our Member Unions – from the Boards, to CEOs and staff – for your tireless efforts in incredibly trying circumstances to deliver at the community level, which is the heartbeat of our game.
Most importantly, thank you to all those involved in delivering community Rugby week in week out, without the army of volunteers, coaches, club officials and supporters this just wouldn’t be possible. And to all those that put on the boots in 2021 we hope you enjoyed it and look forward to you doing so again in 2022!
Rugby World Cup 2027
In May this year we launched Australia’s bid to host Rugby World Cup 2027 with a fantastic celebration of our game, culminating with the lighting of the Sydney Opera House sails with images of the Rugby community.
Australia has now been named by World Rugby as ‘preferred candidate’ to host RWC 2027, allowing us to work exclusively in partnership with them to develop the optimum tournament model for the event, ahead of a final decision by the World Rugby Council in May next year.
The bid has provided a fantastic opportunity to connect with the Australian Rugby community throughout the year, with the Classic Wallabies attending many grassroots events around the country.
Hosting RWC 2027 would be a game-changer for Rugby in our country and the broader Pacific region, attracting 30,000 new participants in Australia and providing a significant financial boost for the governing body to invest back into our game for a sustainable future.
Our professional game also celebrated some considerable milestones this year, headlined by the signing of Cadbury as the principal partner of the Wallabies and major partner of the Buildcorp Wallaroos and the launch of our new Gold Jersey. Inspired by our 1991 World Cup-winning team, I am delighted that this jersey will be worn by all National Teams in 2022.
I want to sincerely thank our national team kit partners in ASICS for helping us produce these unique jerseys despite the challenges of COVID and the team at Mondelēz International/Cadbury for their terrific support and partnership.
Our partnership with Cadbury kicked off with the return of international Rugby as we welcomed France back down-under for the first inbound Test series since 2019. It was a challenging affair, which ultimately saw the Wallabies retain the Trophée des Bicentenaires in front of a cumulative total of 72,129 fans in both Melbourne and Brisbane.
Unfortunately the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic meant we were unable to deliver any Test matches for our Buildcorp Wallaroos, but we are looking forward to a brighter year ahead in 2022 as they prepare for the postponed Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Breaking up the XVs season, 2021 finally provided the opportunity for both our Australian Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams to head to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
While we didn’t achieve our goals of another podium finish, we couldn’t be prouder of the determination, resilience and creativity that both teams showed, not only in their preparation in the face of such uncertainty, but also in how they continued to adapt. While challenging, these experiences will have set them up in good stead for a monumental year ahead as they return to the World Series and prepare for the Commonwealth Games.
Our representation at the Olympics was more than just players, though, with five of our national match officials also appointed to the event. Most notably, Damon Murphy was appointed to the Men’s Gold Medal Final, while Amy Perrett took control of the Women’s semi-final.
This year again saw us host the eToro Rugby Championship, with much of the tournament held in Queensland. We had an unbeaten run, playing on the Gold Coast, Brisbane, and for the first time ever-Townsville, with wins against Argentina and reigning World Champions South Africa. Australia became the first nation to host a Test Rugby double-header, with nearly 150,000 fans attending across the Rugby Championship, and we again thank eToro for increasing their sponsorship significantly in 2021 to secure the naming rights to all of our Rugby Championship matches featuring the Wallabies.
The Rugby Championship also saw the Wallabies family welcome a further three debutants, before the team headed for their first Spring Tour since 2018.
A pit-stop in Japan saw the Wallabies down the Brave Blossoms to extend their unbeaten run to the longest period in six years, claiming their fifth consecutive win. However, the team were unlucky going down to Scotland, England and Wales as they rounded out their northern tour.
Dave Rennie and his team have set up a great foundation as they continue their journey toward the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
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In closing out the year, I would like to thank the entire team at Rugby Australia – Board, Executive and Staff – for their tireless efforts, dedication and teamwork to deliver a full program of events. While we thought 2020 would be a year like no other, 2021 proved equally if not more challenging.
I would also like to extend a sincere thanks to all of our commercial partners for their terrific engagement and support throughout 2021 – without them, our game from the elite to the grassroots would not be as strong and we look forward to continuing to work with you all in 2022.
And finally, thank you to you the Australian Rugby community and all our fans and supporters for your resilience and passion, which has ensured our game could survive and thrive during this incredibly challenging period.
I wish you a safe and happy festive season and look forward to Rugby’s journey kicking off again in early 2022.