Rugby Australia to implement Sonny Bill Williams’ idea after ex-All Black’s criticism

Colin Newboult
Former All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Former All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Rugby Australia (RA) have laid out their plans for growing the game in the country, starting with the suburbs in western Sydney.

Chairman Hamish McLennan was speaking to Stan Sport about the issues facing rugby union following a disastrous season for the Wallabies, which culminated in a dreadful Rugby World Cup.

They became the first Australian side to exit at the World Cup pool stage under head coach Eddie Jones, who subsequently resigned after the conclusion of the tournament.

Grassroots game

The under pressure McLennan announced some of the things he wants to put in place over the next few years, which includes developing the sport in Sydney.

That was something Sonny Bill Williams suggested when he took aim at the governing body and the then-head coach Jones in September.

Williams even offered his services to RA when suggesting that focusing on western Sydney would be a good place to start.

“Obviously, when it comes to Australian rugby union, I’ve been in this space for a few years now and I want to see it thrive. A lot of things need to change, reset button… strategies within the community, western Sydney, for example, I would love to be a part of that (development),” he said on Stan Sport’s Rugby Heaven programme in September.

“A couple of years ago, I tweeted that we need to get some structures in place, strategies in place around the western Sydney area. Let’s start a college competition in the public schools based out west and see where we go from there.”

Rugby Australia are now looking to tap into that area, while McLennan is also exploring other ways of increasing the interest in the game.

“I think we’re trying to make it more accessible,” RA’s chairman said. “If you look at it, we’re trying to get the game more on free-to-air [television], we’re going to spread the World Cup amongst all the states; if you look at the teams, the Wallaroos and Wallabies, they all come from very diverse backgrounds.

“When we bring more money into the game, a key priority is going straight into grassroots. If you look at [2025 signing] Joseph Suaali’i, he was born in Penrith even though he went to Kings, but we want to tap into the western suburbs of Sydney because that will deliver more winning Wallabies.”

Following Ireland’s example

Rugby Australia also want to create a centralised system which gets every player, coach, team and state on the same page going forward.

“That’s really important to the ongoing success and planning of the game, the states have got to agree to it… what we need to do is create a structure where we traffic all the players through a system in a more uniform way, and I think that’s where we haven’t performed as well as we should have. Again, look at Ireland [and their success],” McLennan added.

“I think we can do it, and there are good players coming through. And I think one benefit of what Eddie’s done is he’s introduced a lot of young players to big-time football through the World Cup.

“So we can do it, but we’ve got to get our skates on and we need the states to support us to be able to do it. And it is progressing, we’ve had some breakthroughs of late. But we’ve got to do, and we’ve got to do it cleanly and properly.”

READ MORE: Sonny Bill Williams stands by Eddie Jones criticism and offers services to beleaguered Rugby Australia