Rugby Australia is preparing to roll out the welcome mat for some of the highest profile Wallabies based overseas as part of a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition that is now gaining serious momentum.
Izack Rodda, Sean McMahon, Will Skelton and Tolu Latu are all being eyed to return, and the Western Force is set to be the major beneficiary as Australia must be capable of fielding five competitive teams.
News Corp Australia has learned that Rodda had several conversations with Force coach Tim Sampson after quitting Queensland Reds, but ultimately RA blocked any move to a rival franchise this year, leading him to sign a 12-month deal with French club Lyon.
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Sean McMahon is one player who could be lured back home.Source:AAP
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Skelton has signed a two-year deal with rival French club La Rochelle worth a reported $1.15 million per season.
However, the COVID-19 crisis has gouged the money out of all European clubs and competitions and most are seeking to radically scale down or cut the contracts of their highest paid stars.
That plays into Australia’s hands if private equity firms, who have expressed an interest in a trans-Tasman Super Rugby model, come to the fore with money to sustain a new version of southern hemisphere’s premier club competition.
It is the private equity interest that has likely seen the U-turn by New Zealand this week, after they initially called for “expressions of interest” in a Kiwi comp with just two Australian teams, to now having All Blacks coach Ian Foster endorsing all five.
RA chairman Hamish McLennan had firmly rejected the initial Kiwi proposal and made clear that Australia would leave the trans-Tasman partnership to run its own domestic tournament.
Izack Rodda is currently playing in France.Source:News Regional Media
When previous Australian administrators had blinked and caved in to Kiwi pressure, McLennan’s unwavering position caused New Zealand Rugby to rapidly explore an eight-team competition that would have been hypocritical to their original declaration not to water down their five franchises, while fielding competitive sides across the board.
Money talks, and as broadcast revenue steadily declines, it’s the private equity backing that can become the dominant economic factor for rugby.
There is apparently little appetite to invest in domestic-only tournaments, so it’s imperative Australia and New Zealand work collaboratively to maximise any such investment.
While a trans-Tasman tournament is hoped to be in place by 2021, the reality of coronavirus and its associated border shutdowns and empty stadium means in all likelihood, there would be Australian and New Zealand domestic seasons played next year, rolling into a crossover finals series, before the official trans-Tasman competition kicks off in 2022 when presumably the virus has been quelled.
In anticipation, RA is working to secure the best payers possible to bolster all five of their teams, to accompany the impressive stock of emerging young talent.
Tolu Latu would be off contract and available for a 2022 competition kick off.Source:Getty Images
If trans-Tasman does kick off in 2022, Skelton, McMahon and Latu will be off contract and available.
If they and Rodda are asked to take pay cuts in the meantime and RA can secure funds, or Force’s billionaire owner Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest can put in a rival offer, they could be here next year.
It can also be revealed that a host of Argentina’s Test players are on a target list for the Force and other Australian franchises.
A number of Pumas remain unsigned by European and Japanese clubs, and at this point have no avenue to play professional club rugby.
Australia can pounce, and it’s believed they’re looking at a number of stars including former Brumbies halfback Tomas Cubelli, along with Gonzalo Bertranou, Julian Montoya, Tomas Lezana, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Matthias Moroni, Matias Orlando, Emiliano Boffelli, Baptist Delguy, Joaquin Tuculet.
Originally published asBig guns in sights as rivals finally get on same page
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