Canberra clubs back Brumbies future to boost John I Dent Cup

Canberra rugby clubs fear the ACT Brumbies’ potential demise will cripple the capital’s premier amateur competition, imploring officials to look beyond Super Rugby before swinging the axe.

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The John I Dent Cup season will start on Saturday as defending champion Tuggeranong clashes against Easts and Queanbeyan plays against Wests.

But the uncertainty hovering above the Brumbies has been dominating conversations as the clubs contemplate a future without their biggest weapon.

The Brumbies invested in Canberra’s competition six years ago when then-coach Jake White allocated his Super Rugby players to John I Dent Cup teams rather than having them play in Sydney.

Individual teams have also been able to recruit a better calibre of players to the capital because Brumbies coaches are watching all of the games.

But if the Brumbies are ripped out of Super Rugby, the flow-down effect will be a major hit in the amateur junior and senior ranks.

“You feel for their uncertainty, I wouldn’t like to be in that position,” said Royals coach Wayne Southwell.

“[Canberra] clubs are now recruiting from overseas and it’s that link to the Brumbies or ability to say you’ll play against Brumbies and be seen by coaches that is the major boost.

“The fact you can say that increases the value of coming to Canberra. Take that away and you automatically drop that standard.”

The Brumbies still don’t have a clear picture of whether they are in danger of being exiled from Super Rugby as officials weigh up options to change the competition.

One of those options is reducing the format from 18 to 15 teams, which will involve cutting one Australian franchise.

The Brumbies, Western Force and Melbourne Rebels are all in the firing line while a potential Brumbies-Rebels merger has been floated as an idea.

The Force have a launched an “own the Force” campaign similar to that used by NFL team the Green Bay Packers in the United States.

The Brumbies considered the same model more than a decade ago, but it was decided the club was better off on its own.

The Brumbies and Canberra’s clubs have been closely aligned over the past 21 years and the clubs still hold the balance of power in the board room because they have the majority of votes.

But the biggest impact in recent years has been on the field with Brumbies players returning to the club competition to lift the standard.

Former Brumby and Wallaby John Ross, who now coaches Easts, said: “Rugby as a brand at the moment certainly isn’t as competitive in the sporting market at the moment.

“I think the Super Rugby competition is too big. So there needs to be changes. But I think we need Australian teams to grow our brand and have a presence.

“I think there will still be Canberra rugby [if the Brumbies go]. But it will impact right through … and it will smash the junior numbers.”

There are six players who have made the jump from the John I Dent Cup to Brumbies contracts in the past two years.

Gungahlin coach Dan Atkins added: “It’s sad that rugby has another issue hanging over it.

“But ACT rugby was successful before the Brumbies and if it happens to go that way, which would be a massive hit, we’re resilient and I think we’ll pick ourselves up and move forward.

“I just can’t fathom Canberra not having an ACT representative rugby side. It’s just strange.”

The Brumbies launched a ‘call to arms’ this week in the hope of attracting a big crowd at Canberra Stadium when they play the Otago Highlanders on Saturday night.

The John I Dent Cup season starts with a split round with just two games before ramping up next weekend.

JOHN I DENT CUP ROUND ONE

Saturday: Queanbeyan Whites v Wests at Campese Field, 3.05pm, Tuggeranong Vikings v Easts at Viking Park, 3.25pm.