THE timing of the Bush2Bledisloe rugby tour stop in Orange yesterday was bitter sweet. Orange rugby fans were celebrating after the Waratahs’ last minute victory in the Super 15s on Saturday night but the win also meant a large number of Wallaby stars were committed to a civic reception for the Waratahs in Sydney.
Still, it was a pretty good excuse for many of rugby’s biggest names being absent from a bush tour which includes stops in Dubbo and Bathurst.
The real point of course is that Australian rugby is investing in its support base in regional Australia. It is an investment which is not before time when the sport’s administrators consider the competition from Aussie rules, the NRL and the growing favourite among parents, soccer.
AFL in particular has expanded its support base in NSW by being willing to invest in a new team in western Sydney and making its star players available for clinics with adoring kids at every opportunity.
There are many sports for country kids to choose from and ultimately it will be those which are parental favourites or market themselves the best that will win the fan base.
While rugby has a strong following in Orange and the central west, as with the rest of the country it trails a distant second behind rugby league.
If it is going to get more juniors among its ranks and eventually more paying adults in seats at Super 15 games or test matches it needs to raise the profile of its star players and introduce them to the kids who idolise sporting stars.
The enthusiasm at local primary schools for a glimpse of the Bledisloe Cup and the large crowd that turned out to watch the Wallabies train at Kinross Wolaroi yesterday afternoon augurs well for this sort of event.
It is the sort of exercise which breeds passion in supporters and players and leads to success on and off the field. Just ask the All Blacks, they have been doing this sort of thing for decades.