The biggest eyesore in Australian sport
Twelve tumultuous months off the field has inevitably taken its toll, with Australian rugby union crumbling in the early stages of the 2020 Super Rugby tournament.
After a forgettable 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign, a cluster of rugby stars - including former Wallabies Quade Cooper, Will Genia and Bernard Foley - abandoned the Super Rugby tournament for lucrative contracts in Japan.
Tied in with the Israel Folau saga and ongoing television rights negotiations, Super Rugby is slowly fading into the background of the Australian sporting calendar.
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Australian sides are currently 0-6 against foreign opposition this season, with losses to teams from New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan.
A trip over the Tasman has been a death sentence since 2015, with our teams going a combined 1-45 from their past 46 trips. Twenty-eight of the defeats were by 13 points or more.
But it's getting ugly at home too. The most heartbreaking result this season was the Brumbies' 23-22 loss to the Highlanders in Canberra on Saturday. After the hosts tried to run down the clock with a six-point lead, the New Zealand side dived over in the 83rd minute, a conversion sealing the win.
The Queensland Reds and New South Wales Waratahs are yet to register a victory after three rounds, occupying 13th and 15th on the Super Rugby ladder respectively.
No side in the competition has conceded more points after three rounds than the inexperienced Waratahs (99).
These results are almost as disappointing as the lack of talent on display. Not only are the scorelines depressing for rugby fans, but the Australian teams have offered nothing but drab, lifeless play.
The Kiwis have been quick to put the boot in too. New Zealand Herald reporter Patrick McKendry lamented the "sad state of affairs", warning another one-sided Bledisloe Cup beckons if momentum doesn't quickly change for Australia's teams.
"Neither the Reds nor the Waratahs have won a game this season, a state of affairs that should concern a union in the midst of negotiations for a new broadcasting deal, not to mention new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, who may inherit a squad of players low on confidence ahead of the Bledisloe Cup series … But it's clearly not good for the competition either," he wrote. "The Aussies need to pick their game up."
Possibly even more concerning are the dwindling crowds as attendance drops to record lows in 2020. NSW recorded its lowest ever crowd in the competition's 25-year history, with only 7491 attending the Waratahs' 32-12 loss to the Auckland Blues at Newcastle's McDonald Jones Stadium on February 8th.
Never before had less than 10,000 fans attended a home game in New South Wales.
Super Rugby commenced earlier than usual this year, potentially in an attempt to avoid coinciding with the AFL and NRL competitions, which start in March.
However, occupying the February vacancy hasn't paid off. Austadiums revealed Super Rugby crowds have been gradually dropping for a while, with the exception of minor spikes in attendance during World Cup years.
AVERAGE SUPER RUGBY ATTENDANCE IN AUSTRALIA
2015 season* - 16,898
2016 season - 14,787
2017 season - 11,434
2018 season - 11,004
2019 season* - 11,300
2020 season - 7324
* indicates Rugby World Cup year
Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle spoke about the dwindling Super Rugby crowds last season, admitting it's been a "challenging" period.
"It's a concern. It's a concern for sport across Australia really," Castle told The Sydney Morning Herald.
"There's a lot of codes, particularly in the Sydney market, are finding that it's quite challenging. There's no magic bullet, it's about a lot of hard work."
Fans are abandoning Super Rugby in their living rooms as well. As shown by Media Week, NRL Nines and AFLW matches on the weekend received considerably higher TV ratings than the Waratahs vs Rebels Australian Derby.
FOX SPORTS TV RATINGS ON THE WEEKEND
NRL Nines Cowboys vs Dragons - 201,000
NRLW Nines Dragons vs Broncos - 170,000
AFLW West Coast vs Fremantle - 62,000
Super Rugby Rebels vs Waratahs - 55,000
Super Rugby Brumbies vs Highlanders - 40,000
A-League Adelaide vs Central Coast - 24,000
The dramatic decrease in Super Rugby support could be due to New Zealand's relentless dominance - the Crusaders have won three consecutive titles, likely to snare a fourth in 2020 - or simply a lack of interest.
"I actually had one young fella come up to me and say, 'See my Waratahs jersey - I'm going to give them a couple more weeks otherwise I'm going to burn it'," Horan said.
"It's a big rugby supporter base but with the way the Waratahs are going, 0-3, there's a few disappointed fans at the moment. Yes, we'd like to be patient but fans aren't that patient anymore."
The Rebels host the Sharks at Ballarat on Saturday afternoon, while the Reds will endeavour to finally snare a win when they face the Sunwolves on Saturday evening at Suncorp Stadium.
LOSING STREAKS IN NEW ZEALAND
Reds (14 games) - Last win v Chiefs in 2013
Brumbies (13 games) - Last win v Hurricanes in 2014
Waratahs (10 games) - Last win v Hurricanes in 2015
Rebels (3 games) - Last win v Blues in 2018