Rugby union in Australia

Rugby union in Australia

Rugby overview
country = Australia
sport = rugby union

union = Australian Rugby Union
nickname = Wallabies
first = 25 July 1839cite web | | title=History of the ARU|url=,183.html| accessdate=4 December | accessyear=2006] , Sydney, New South Wales
registered = 165,219 (total) 42,100 (adult)
clubs = 752
match = 109,874 Australia v New Zealand, (Telstra Stadium) 15 July 2000
national1 = Rugby World Cup
national2 = Tri Nations
national3 = Pacific Nations Cup
national4 = Rugby World Cup Sevens
national5 = IRB Sevens World Series
national6 = Adelaide Sevens
club1 = Super 14
club2 = Australian Rugby Championship
club5 = Tooheys New Cup
club6 = Queensland Premier Rugby
club7 = ACTRU Premier Division

Rugby union is a popular team sport played in Australia, with its history dating back to 1864. Rugby union in Australia is mainly played at a professional and recreational level.

The principal competition in Australian rugby union is the Super 14, which is a multi-regional competition across the southern hemisphere. Australia enters four regional franchises in the competition, the Reds of Queensland, the Waratahs of New South Wales, the Brumbies of the Australian Capital Territory and the Force of Western Australia. The Australian Rugby Championship was introduced as the next level below the Super 14 in 2007, before its demise the same year due to lack of interest. Traditional capital city competitions, such as the Shute Shield of Sydney and the Queensland Premier Rugby of Brisbane are currently the highest level of domestic competition.

The national team are the Wallabies, who have won the Rugby World Cup twice, in 1991 and in 1999. The Wallabies play in Australia's traditional sporting colours of green and gold. They are considered one of the top rugby nations in the world, due to their success at the World Cup, and consistently high world ranking.


The first recorded game of rugby in Australia was on 25 July 1839 and involved members of the military.cite web | | title=Australian|url=| accessdate=4 December | accessyear=2006] Verify credibility|date=October 2008 However the game was firmly established in Sydney where it developed a strong following.Fact|date=October 2008

The first rugby football club that was established in Australia was at Sydney University in 1864.Fact|date=October 2008 A decade after the first club was formed, the body called the Southern Rugby Union is formed as a result of a meeting at the Oxford Hotel in SydneyFact|date=October 2008, a Sydney competition was established, which was administered from the England Rugby headquarters at TwickenhamFact|date=October 2008.

The earliest record of rugby games being played in Queensland in 1876 [] .

The 'Waratah' Rugby Club invited Australian rules football club, the Carlton Football Club to play two matches, one under rugby rules and one under Australian rules [M. P. Sharp, [ Football in Sydney before 1914] , Sporting Traditions Vol 4 No 1 Nov 1987.] . On Saturday 23rd June, 3,000 spectators watched Waratah beat Carlton at rugby at the Albert Cricket Ground in Redfern [ibid] . In the return leg, Carlton defeated Waratah under Australian rules [ibid] . A week later over 100 footballers formed the New South Wales Football Association (NSWFA) to play the Australian game [ibid] . With its origins, image and administration anchored in England, supporters of rugby saw the code as a symbol and reminder of their Englishness.cite web | | title=The hidden story of Australian rules in Sydney|url=| accessdate=4 December | accessyear=2006]

The first inter-colonial game occurred in 1882, when players from the four Queensland clubs (who played both rugby and Australian rules football) travelled to NSW. NSW won by 28 points to 4 at the Sydney Cricket Ground in front of 4,000 spectators.

On November 2, in 1883, the Northern Rugby Union is formed as the rugby body in Queensland after a meeting at the Exchange Hotel. As a result of the formation of the new body, several prominent GPS schools took up rugby as opposed to Melbourne Rules. That same year, the Southern Rugby Union undertakes its inaugural tour of New Zealand, the following year, a New Zealand party comes to Australia and the first club competition is held in Queensland. In 1888 the Melbourne Rugby Union is formed in Victoria. In 1892, the rugby bodies in Australia drop Southern and Northern from their titles, adopting New South Wales and Queensland respectively. That year the first British and Irish Lions tour was carried out, although unsanctioned by official bodies in Europe, the 21-man squad went to both Australia and New Zealand.

In 1899, the national team of Australia play their first match, and the Hospital's Cup becomes an annual competition in Queensland. In 1903, Australia played its first test against the All Blacks, in front of a crowd of 30,000 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. In 1907, Australia again played the All Blacks, at the same venue as the 1903 match, with crowd numbers reaching 50,000.

An event that was to greatly shape rugby union's future in Australia was the onset of World War I in 1914. While rugby league, which had been introduced to Australia in 1908, continued to play in the form of NSWRL competitions, rugby union competitions were suspended due to an overwhelmingly high percentage of rugby union players enlisting to serve in the Australian Imperial Force.

The enlistment of rugby union players was so quick and extensive, that by 1915, a Sydney newspaper reported: "According to figures prepared by Mr W. W. Hill, secretary of the New South Wales Rugby Union, 197 out of 220 regular first grade players are on active service, or 90 percent."

Weakened by the loss of its players to the war effort, the Queensland Rugby Union was dissolved in 1919. In the aftermath of the war, a large number of national representatives would defect to rugby league, giving rugby league a strong position in the states of New South Wales and Queensland, which it continues to maintain to this day.

In 1928 the QRU reformed, and the GPS and major clubs returned to rugby union. In 1931, the governor of New Zealand donated a sporting trophy called the Bledisloe Cup, named appropriately after Charles Bathurst, 1st Viscount Bledisloe, for competition between Australia and New Zealand. The first game was held that year at Eden Park, though the official start of the competition is disputed between that game and the 1932 New Zealand tour to Australia.

The late 1940s saw the construction of a national governing body, as opposed to the NSWRU being the main organisation. In 1949, the Australian Rugby Union joined the International Rugby Board. In 1987, the first ever Rugby World Cup was held in both Australia and New Zealand, as a result of both the respective rugby bodies putting forth the idea to the IRB. Australia was defeated by France in the semifinal stage.

With rugby union becoming an openly professional sport in 1995, after more than a century of a stricly-enforced amateur code, major changes were seen in both the club and international game. The Super 12 rugby competition was born that year. The tournament involved 12 provincinal sides from three counties; New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. Australia entered three sides into the competition; ACT Brumbies, Queensland Reds and the New South Wales Waratahs. The year also saw the Tri Nations Series, between the three Super 12 countries.

In 1999, the Bledisloe Cup match between Australia and the New Zealand All Blacks was staged at the Homebush Olympic Stadium, now know as Telstra Stadium. The game attracted a then world record crowd of 107,042 for a rugby union match. In 2000 this was bettered when a crowd of 109,874 witnessed the 'Greatest ever Rugby Match' when a Jonah Lomu try sealed an All Blacks win over the Wallabies 39-35. The All Blacks had led 24-nil after 11 minutes only to see Australia draw level at 24 all by half time.

The Wallabies were champions of the 1999 Rugby World Cup in Wales, claiming their second Webb Ellis Cup trophy. In doing this, Australia became the first multiple winners of the tournament.

The year 2003 saw the staging of the Rugby World Cup in Australia. Prior to the tournament, three high profile Kangaroo rugby league players switched codes; Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers and Lote Tuqiri. The fifth Rugby World Cup was held in various Australian cities from October to November in 2003. Matches were played all across the country, in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Townsville, Gosford, Wollongong and Launceston. The tournament was hailed as a huge success, an estimated 40,000 international spectators travelled to Australia for the event, some estimations said that a $100 million may have been injected into the Australian economy. The Australian Rugby Union said that revenues exceeded all expectations, the tournament surplus was estimated to be at $44.5 million.cite web | | title=ARU make huge profit from RWC|url=| accessdate=20 April | accessyear=2006] The hosting of the World Cup in Australia also saw an increase in Super 12 crowds and junior participation. In 2005, to celebrate a decade of professional rugby union in Australia, the Wallaby Team of the Decade was announced.


Rugby union in Australia is governed by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) which is a member of the International Rugby Board (IRB). There are constituent state unions with the New South Wales Rugby Union and Queensland Rugby Union traditionally being the dominant members, reflecting the games higher status in these states. However, every state and territory in Australia is represented by their respective union, and in recent years, the ACT and Southern NSW Rugby Union has elevated itself to equality with NSW and Queensland. The ARU was formed in 1949 and before this time the NSWRU was responsible for international fixtures for Australian teams.


In 2000, there were just over 42,100 adult rugby union players in Australia, of which the states of New South Wales and Queensland account for 82.3% of all senior players. The highest participation rate is 0.8% in the Australian Capital Territory. [ Rugby Union Profile, Ausport]

In NSW, major support comes from the private schools who still maintain Union over league. In Sydney there are three major private school associations contributing the most support. These are the GPS, CAS and ISA, the major of these being the GPS which includes Saint Ignatius college, riverview and Saint Josephs College, Hunters hill whose game against each other is broadcast on the ABC every year.


uper 14

Super 14 is a multi-regional rugby union competition that involves 14 teams from three nations across the southern hemisphere; Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Australia has four sides in the competition; Queensland Reds, New South Wales Waratahs, Brumbies Rugby and the Western Force. Prior to the Super 12/14, there were a number of other Oceania-African competitions that featured representative teams from both Queensland and New South Wales, such as the Super 10 competition, which Queensland actually won twice. Before that there was the Super Sixes competition. State teams have been playing each other since the late 1800s, when Queensland took on New South Wales in Sydney. The Brumbies have managed to win it, and both the Reds and Waratahs have made the finals. The Australian Provincial Championship (APC) was also played in 2006, featuring the Australian Super 14 teams.

Australian Rugby Championship

In 2007 the Australian Rugby Championship (ARC) was introduced. It includes three teams in NSW, two in QLD and teams in Canberra, Melbourne and Perth. The aim of the eight team comp is to bridge the gap between Super 14 and club rugby. The competition is scheduled to run from August finishing in October with the final.

The Australian Rugby Union decided to scrap the competition for the 2008 season due to the union suffering a A$4.7 million loss.cite news | publisher=NZ Herald|title=Rugby: ARC scrapped after just one season|url=|accessdate=2007-12-18]


Each major city and many country areas support club rugby competitions. Of this group, the club competitions in Sydney and Brisbane are the oldest and most prestigious. The NSWRU runs the Shute Shield, the highest level in New South Wales. QRU runs Queensland Premier Rugby competition which is the top Brisbane club competition. The New South Wales Suburban Rugby Union features six divisions, more than 55 clubs and over 7500 players.


The Wallabies are Australia's national rugby union team. Australia has won the World Cup on two occasions, in 1991 against England at Twickenham, and then again in 1999 in Wales against France. The team plays in green and gold, which have traditionally been Australia's sporting colours. Australia has been playing internationals since 1899, when they played the visiting British Isles team on June 24. They won their first outing, defeating the British team 13 to 3. The rivalry with the New Zealand All Blacks is considered the marquee rivalry for the game of Rugby Union in Australia and the teams contest the Bledisloe Cup on an annual basis. The biggest crowd for a Bledisloe match was 109,874 in Sydney.cite web | publisher=Guinness World Records| title=Highest Attendance At A Rugby Union Match|url=| accessdate=13 August | accessyear=2007] The Wallabies play the Springboks from South Africa on an annual basis as they are the other team in the Tri Nations tournament. Other rivalries that Australia once held such as games against England, Wales and France are now considered less relevant, agrivated by under strength northern hemisphere teams touring Australia during Rugby World Cup years. This practice of sending grossly under strength national sides on tour during the lead up to a Rugby World Cup was addressed by the IRB during the 2007 Rugby World Cup following formal complaints from the three major Unions from the southern hemisphere including the ARU.

Other representative teams

Australia also has a successful sevens side which competes in the IRB Sevens World Series, Rugby World Cup Sevens and the Commonwealth Games. They have won the Hong Kong Sevens event on five occasions. Australia A also plays matches, and compete in the Pacific Nations Cup. The women's team, the Wallaroos have been playing international rugby since 1994, and have competed at three Women's Rugby World Cups. Australia also has an under 21 side, a under 19 side and a schoolboys team.

Television coverage


*Tri Nations Series
*Cook Cup
*Lansdowne Cup
*Rugby World Cup
*Shute Shield
*Queensland Premier Rugby
*Australian Rugby Championship


*Super 14
*Air New Zealand Cup
*Currie Cup
*Heineken Cup
*Rugby Union Tri Nations
*Winter internationals (Southern)
*Summer internationals (Northern)
*Rugby Sevens

Setanta Sports

*Guinness Premiership
*EDF Energy Cup
*Six Nations Championship
*Celtic League


External links

* []
* [ FOX Sports Australia Rugby section]
* [] - NSW Suburban Rugby Union

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