Rugby Union SA | Season in Review

· SA Premier
by Rugby Union SA

Rugby Union South Australia, like most organisations, has experienced a very turbulent year with many changing environments. We are truly grateful to all of our amazing clubs, volunteers, match officials and players for supporting the community over the past 10 months and managing to roll out a successful season.

Competition schedule

The organisation started back in October 2019 when we met with the Competition Advisory Group (CAG). This group, consisting of a minimum of one representative from each club, discussed the highs and lows of the 2019 season and finalised a list of priorities to be followed when forming the competition structure moving forward:

Priorities of principles when creating a draw structure:

  • When at home – keep club teams together
  • On away Games – keep the club together as much as possible
  • Draw finalized prior to the season commencing
  • Attempt to have every team play each other once in the competition year
  • One team per age group within a club (no age group to have two teams entered into a competition within the same club)
  • Avoid gaps in the playing day
  • Revenue making/finances

The weighting on the first two priorities was very significant and voted on unanimously by the committee.

The only option to achieve the above priorities was to schedule a club v club draw, meaning each club plays each other on a home and away basis, resulting in an 18 round season. The only outliers were the grades that had less than 9 teams. A mock draw was produced, and the CAG met again in November 2019; the refining of the priorities was as follows:

  • When playing at home, keep all teams together at home (as best as possible).
  • Try to play each team in the grade an even number of times.
  • When playing away, keep all teams together where possible.

A third CAG meeting was facilitated in February 2020, and following the disruption to the planned start of the season, a final CAG meeting in May 2020 signed off on the 2020 season draw.

Mental Health First Aid

A new initiative by RUSA in 2020 to support and address mental health in our community, was to train two members in each club in Mental Health First Aid. As well as providing these individuals with the education and the tools to utilise to identify and address mental health issues, the course also developed a network of people who could share experiences and provide support for each other.

The program has had a successful response, not just from those that participated, but the club communities.

The aim is to organise a few workshops throughout next season to discuss experiences and action taken. 

Pre-season Activities

It was decided that the build up to the season would consist of Beach 5s in February, Elizabeth 7s in March and the season kicking off in April.

The Beach 5s was a huge success. In addition to the number of teams entering, the excellent venue and the weather, we had a team of Classic Wallabies join us for the event. The Classics played against every male team and refereed the women’s and junior matches.

The event was a great opportunity to promote the game and attracted some new partners, including the Pier Hotel, the City of Holdfast Bay and Nation Design.

RUSA then turned its attention to the Elizabeth 7s. With the realisation that the COVID 19 virus was spreading rapidly the event went ahead on 14th March. Whilst the event was successful and enjoyable for all who were involved, it was not as well supported by clubs as previous years. 

COVID-19

RUSA was forced to make the decision to suspend the start of the season on 16th March due to the outbreak of COVID19 and was discussed at length with the Club Presidents at the Presidents meeting that evening.  All staff were advised to work from home with the ongoing situation assessed daily.

All staff were moved to reduced working hours and placed on JobKeeper; we managed to organise rent relief, which reduced our outgoing expenses to zero. During this period, our priority was to remain connected; initially we set up regular, twice daily, check ins with staff as well as zoom meetings every second day. Our next priority was our clubs, each staff member working with different groups of contacts ensuring there was connection throughout the community. Utilising social media, we managed to produce some rugby skills workouts as well as cooking classes and regular updates to our community.

As we emerged from ‘Lock Down’ staff members were allocated to work with a different club to ensure they followed the return to play protocols. This included the development of COVID Safe Plans and training schedules. Again, we can’t thank our community enough for following the directions and remaining safe throughout this period.

With COVID Restrictions lifted, we were able to hold a school holiday clinic at Woodville Rugby Club, with the aim of introducing Primary School aged children to the basics of rugby union.

60 kids attended between the ages of 4 through to 12, from Onkaparinga through to Barossa, those that knew the game and quite a few that didn’t know anything about rugby but were looking for different experiences following the easing of restrictions. A special guest appearance from Wally the Wallaby was a highlight for many.

Shortened season

Once the lockdown was over and community contact sport could start again, we provided the CAG with three options for a season schedule with all agreeing on a 14-week season starting as soon as we were able.

The season started on 27th June, having been allowed back to play contact sport on 25th June. South Australia was the first jurisdiction in the world to play contact rugby following the lockdown, live streaming the match of the round between Burnside and Brighton, via Facebook and YouTube.

Round 1 was an organised trial match, however we still went ahead with the ANZAC Match (Re match of the 2019 Grand Final) played at Burnside for the ANZAC Cup and Medal. Brighton came home with the win and Josateki Tuilawaki was awarded the Michael von Berg MC OAM ANZAC Medal 

While the season did produce some blow outs due to the club v club concept, it was a huge success developing the community. Clubs hosting record attendance at home days, families all playing together at the same location.

Friday night matches were organised on a regular basis, in order to take the pressure off the scheduling on a Saturday. All clubs involved with Friday night matches had nothing but positive feedback.

Overall, we had an increase in playing numbers particularly in Juniors where Adelaide University welcomed an U16s team, Elizabeth had U16s and Woodville had a team in every junior age group introducing U16s & U18s for 2020. The Women’s competition continued to grow with Port Adelaide having reviving their team after 15 years and Old Collegians working hard in the off-season were also able to field a team.

Finals Series

The traditional finals series, playing 20 matches at the one venue over two days for the first weekend proved problematic. We were restricted to under 1,000 people including players per venue. Following a meeting with SA Health, they were also concerned about bringing all our clubs together and would not sign off on a COVID Management Plan. The COVID Management Plan would have allowed us to have more than 1,000 people at each venue.

The decision was therefore made to operate the whole finals series under the COVID Safe Plans that each club had in place during the seasons home and away series. In order to ensure we did not exceed the numbers, we utilised five venues. Onkaparinga, Brighton, Southern Suburbs, Port Adelaide and Woodville were all used on the first weekend to host both Junior and Senior games. Junior Grand Finals were held at Woodville as a stand-alone feature, during the second week of finals. Senior Grand finals were split between Southern Suburbs on Friday night and Brighton on Saturday; all matches were live streamed via Facebook, YouTube and Rugby Xplorer to encourage people to stay at home and reduce the numbers at each ground.

Don Smith & Edna Reilly Awards Night

The RUSA Annual Awards night was forced to be done differently in 2020. No longer could we host 250 guests in a room enjoying the festivities that come with the night, all due to COVID restrictions. Therefore, it was not financially viable to run the event at a larger facility. As an interim measure we decided to run the event at the rugby home of Don Smith, the Woodville Rugby Club.

Due to limited numbers we had 5 members from each club, nominated male and female senior players as well as each Club President. The whole event was live streamed through our facebook page making the event accessible to the whole rugby community.

Winners of the Don Smith and Edna Reilly awards were Stuart Nutt and Zahn Anthony.

Other award winners on the night were:

  • Tamaki Cup for Minor Round Premier, Brighton
  • Club Champion, Onkaparinga
  • Volunteer of the Year, Peter Campagna
  • Darryl Ryan Memorial for Best Grounds, Brighton
  • Womens Top Team Tries, Onkaparinga
  • Bob Hogarth Mens Most Team Tries, Old Collegians Premier Grade
  • HJ Rogers Memorial Shield for Administrative Services, George McDonald Onkaparinga
  • Neil Charter Memorial Shield for Junior Development, Lainie Cozzitorto Barossa
  • Ray Rosser Memorial Cup for Coach of the Year, Richard Wasley Brighton
  • U18s Tackling Trophy, Spiridon Haratsaris Brighton
  • Meredith Knowler Tackling Trophy, Brianna Nathan Brighton
  • Sir Norman Jude Tackling Trophy, Jack Cook Brighton
  • Junior Maualaivao U18s Best & Fairest, Sam Rahaley Burnside
  • Ray Herde U21 Best & Fairest, Cruz Topai-Aveai Brighton

Representative Programs

Due to the lack of travel opportunities, all State Representative programs nationally were cancelled. In lieu of this, RUSA organised Regional Championships broken down into North, Central and South for U12s, U14s and U16s, East and West for U18s, as well as an U14s and U17s female only competition.

All matches were played on Saturday 7th November at Woodville RUFC in a carnival atmosphere. RUSA would like to recognise the support of Maughan Thiem, assisting players to raise money and cover all costs of the program through the provision of a Kia Picanto at minimal charge for a Lottery. 

2020 Partners

We would like to thank all our 2020 partners for their continued support during very difficult times;

  • Coopers,
  • MSP Group,
  • Voiteck,
  • Rhino Sports,
  • Coopers Alehouse,
  • SA Government,
  • Elastoplast,
  • Spacequake Sports,
  • Johnson Legal and Advisory
  • and new in 2020, AMA Security
  • and Maughan Thiem.

We continued with the Friends of Rugby (FoR) concept in 2020 attracting 15 members. Although the offerings were limited due to restricted travel and events, we managed to roll out a couple of high-quality lunches where the FoR members could join other sponsors as well as paying guests. A lunch took place at the Pullman Hotel where we were joined by the Classic Wallabies and the end of year event saw a bus of 30 going to the Hart of the Barossa.

Social Media

Live streaming of games continues to improve year on year; the production has now been taken up by three free to air channels, which is credit to the team at Spacequake Sports and the commentary of Dave Webb.

 

Financials

Due to the support from Government through Jobkeeper and other COVID stimulus payments we have managed to maintain a very positive financial position and looking to post a surplus once the books close at the end of the year.

Review process

RUSA has carried out a comprehensive review of the year through a participant feedback survey the Competition Advisory Group, Junior and Youth Rugby Committee and Women’s Advisory Group. The information gathered was also supplemented by a Junior Forum that took place during the season.

Outcomes and recommendations from all information gathered is currently being reviewed and options provided back to each of these groups for comment.

Conclusion

Looking back makes everyone realise how much rugby activity took place in such a restrictive uncertain year. We commend everyone for your patience and ability to adjust follow recommendations. The general feeling is that it was a particularly long season, especially for the volunteer committees who are due a well deserved rest.

Many clubs are now undertaking Touch 7s tournaments, which keep the club ticking over as well as introduces new members. Good luck with those programs.

We at RUSA wish you and your families all the very best for Christmas and the New Year. We are looking forward to doing it all again next year (without the obvious)

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