Tuesday 19 August 2014

Australia's NRC: Explained

This Thursday 21st of August, Australia's second attempt at launching a national third tier rugby championship. The NRC, the newest incarnation of the failed Australian Rugby Championship aims to be Australia's answer to New Zealand's ITM Cup and South Africa's Currie Cup; both of which are prestigious tournaments that are a breeding ground for young talent.

But the NRC is not just any tournament; the ARU in their infinite wisdom are desperate to both develop their playing depth to properly compete with their southern hemisphere rivals, and to have a profitable tournament. Several new rules will be trialled, as well as a requirement for all of Australia's Super Rugby players not involved in national set-ups to participate.

This article will include everything you need to know based on what teams are playing, what Super Rugby teams players are taken from, who appears the strongest team, the new rules, and whether this is a competition worth following.

The Basics 

Australia's National Rugby Championship will last 11 weeks; with the nine participating teams playing each other once, before the top 4 play off to determine the inaugural champions. Each team will have 4 home games, 4 away games and a bye.

Team Area Super Rugby Equivalent
Brisbane City Brisbane, Queensland Reds
Queensland Country Queensland Reds
Greater Sydney Rams Sydney Waratahs
North Harbour Rays Sydney Manly, Waratahs
Sydney Stars Sydney Waratahs
NSW Country Eagles Lismore, NSW Randwick, Waratahs, Brumbies
Melbourne Rising Melbourne Melbourne Rebels
University of Canberra Vikings Canberra ACT Brumbies
Perth Spirit Perth Western Force

One of the best things about the tournament is the desire to bring rugby to places that wouldn't be familiar with a high standard of player. This is why Brisbane City, NSW Country Eagles, Perth Spirit, and Queensland Country are taking their home games to multiple venues to get the largest catchment area and drive interest in the competition.

Notable Players To Look Out For:

Brisbane City: James Hanson, James Horwill, David McDuling, Curtis Browning, Jake Schatz, Nick Frisby, Jake McIntyre, Samu Kerevi, Ben Tapuai, Lachie Turner, Chris Kuridrani.

Queensland Country: Greg Holmes, Saia Fainga'a, Beau Robinson, Mike Harris, Anthony Fainga'a, Ben Lucas, JJ Tuilagi.

Greater Sydney Rams: Jed Holloway, Chris Alcock, Mark Swanepoel, Ben Volavola, Lalakai Foketi, Taqele Naiyaravoro.

North Harbour Rays: Matt Lucas

Sydney Stars: Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, Totu Latu, Pat McCutcheon, Tom Carter, Peter Betham, Angus Roberts

NSW Country Eagles: Max Lahiff, Josh Mann-Rea, Mitchell Chapman, Tala Gray, Stephen Hoiles, Ita Vaea, Brendan McKibbin, Matt Carraro, Ed Stubbs, Chris Tuatura-Morrison, Pat Dellit

Melbourne Rising: Cruz Ah Nau, Paul Alo-Emilie, Toby Smith, Pat Leafa, Tom Sexton, Luke Jones, Caderyn Neville, Sean MacMahon, Lopeti Timani, Ben Meehan, Nic Stirzaker, Jack Debreczeni, Mitch Inman, Tom English, Telusa Veainu, Jonah Placid

University Of Canberra Vikings: Scott Sio, JP Smith, Ruan Smith, Siliva Silva, Fotu Auelua, Jarrad Butler, Jordan Smiler, Christian Lealiifano, Henry Speight, Robbie Coleman, Jesse Mogg

Perth Spirit: Pek Cowan, T Faulkner, Ollie Hoskins, Heath Tessman, Sam Wykes, Matt Hodgson, Ben McCalman, Ian Prior, Zack Holmes, Kyle Godwin, Junior Rasolea, Marcel Braache, Luke Morahan, Dane Haylett-Petty

Taking out all of the internationals currently involved in Australia's Rugby Championship campaign; the strongest NRC teams appear to be the Canberra Vikings, Perth Spirit or Melbourne Rising given their lack of internationals, and the fact that their teams are similar to their Super Rugby equivalents and no other team have shared them like with the Reds splitting into Brisbane City and Queensland Country.

Although the players I'm most looking forward to seeing are Jake McIntyre, the Brisbane City outhalf, Jonah Placid, the Melbourne Rising fullback and Taqele Naiyaravoro the massive Sydney Rams winger. For those three in particular, this competition is worth following.

New Rules - Good Or Bizarre?

To me, the 14 experimental laws have a mix of inspired ideas, some intriguing concoctions and some downright idiotic variations.

The ones that get the most attention are the reduction in points for penalty kicks and drop goals, and the increase in the value of conversations. I'm fairly neutral on this, but overall I don't think it will work and will only encourage negative defensive tactics that will concede penalties instead of allowing attacking opportunities.

One of my favourite variations concerns the end of the game when the time is up. Previously when penalties are awarded after the 80 minutes expires, the attacking team didn't have the option of kicking to touch for a lineout because that would signal the end of play. No longer, attacking teams will be allowed this luxury and we could get more frantic and interesting close end games as a result.

Crooked lineouts will not be penalised if the defending team doesn't contest. This is within the bounds of acceptability (i.e. if the throw in is outside the outside shoulder then that's taking the piss.)

Kickers will have less time for conversations and penalties, while scrums will have to be set within 30 seconds of them being awarded. This is an interesting development, and needs to be trialled. It may not work, but at least we'll know after this.

There will be increased leniency on where quick penalties and free kicks are taken from, which can only increase the speed of the game.

Two rules I'm not fond concern mauls formed after the tackler holds the ball carrier up (which cannot be collapsed intentionally), and a quick throw can now be taken even if the ball has touched another person. Both seem wrong to me, especially the maul collapse. The reason collapsing a maul from a lineout is outlawed is due to safety, players are frequently hurt when this occurs, yet from the tackle, mauls have been collapsed intentionally from a tackle for about 4 years now with no record of any injury. The ball carrying team gains no advantage from this rule as they still will not be able to recover the ball once it's wrapped up, and it just makes the game slower because the maul can't collapse and play restarted faster. It's not really a rule that will make a huge amount of difference in Australia anyway, given the Australian way of playing rarely involves holding players up in the tackle. 

Lastly, the rule I don't like at all -although reverting back to it will help people realise that having it in the first place is stupid and will end all nonsensical arguments - is the TMO rules. The NRC is reverting back to pre 2013, and stopping foul play and tries being reviewed unless it's in the try scoring area. While I agree that forward passes shouldn't be reviewed; allowing foul play to go unpunished mid-game offers the victimised team no method of benefiting from any punishment. The process needs to be reviewed to allow TMO's to review these instances while the game continues to minimise stoppages, not scrap the review completely.


In the previous incarnation of the competition back in 2007, the promotion focused on unheard of players that will one day end up becoming Wallabies. The players included were David Pocock, Kurtley Beale, Ben Daley, Matt Hodgson and the Fainga'a brothers. It's Australia's attempt to further increase depth so that there are more contenders to the Australian national squad. It's the next step after increasing the Australian representatives in Super Rugby from three to five teams. While that appeared to be a weakening of their resources, recent improvements are showing that Australian rugby is on the rise again, and having 5 teams playing at that high level will improve Australian rugby. NRC will add more players that otherwise wouldn't get a chance to play against Super Rugby calibre players to the depth. 

Why is this interesting to Ireland? Perhaps you'll have to wait for the next blog post...

To be continued...

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