The distance between Ballarat and Melbourne is the same in both directions. But several Melbourne-based rugby teams say the trip out of the city is too far to travel for a game.
- The Ballarat Highlanders have missed out on two home matches this year due to Melbourne-based clubs forfeiting
- Bendigo, Shepparton and Mornington Peninsula-based club Cerberus have had similar issues
- Ballarat’s first XV competes in Rugby Victoria’s Premiership reserve grade competition
The Ballarat Highlanders Rugby Club is facing a lack of opponents who are willing to travel to the regional area to play games that are part of their regular Rugby Victoria season.
That is despite the Highlanders claiming to have never failed to field a side against metropolitan Melbourne-based clubs.
Monash University Rugby Club forfeited last weekend’s match in Ballarat.
This week it was the Northern Panthers who pulled out of making the trip up the Western Freeway.
Ballarat Highlanders coach Clint Smith said it was a common occurrence.
“The year before it didn’t happen so much but there have been six cases of it this year. Two to us obviously, and also for the other regional clubs, like Bendigo and Shepparton,” he said.
Players say the experience has lowered morale.(AAP: Dean Lewins, file photo)
“It’s hard. Losing home games, you lose revenue from [canteen] sales, you lose your local support, your publicity.
“You’ve got to keep your sponsors happy as well, and they want to come down and watch you play and see the team grow.
“We’ve also lost morale as well from the playing group. They want to play in front of their loved ones.”
Issue prompts new rule
Ballarat fielded a team in all six away games this season.
Mr Smith said the club had been supported by Rugby Victoria, which had introduced a rule that teams that had previously forfeited had to give up a home game to make a trip to Ballarat.
Northern Panthers, which forfeited a Ballarat home match in the first round, has since cancelled this weekend’s game.
“That club has expressed its troubles and won’t be able to travel up for our home game. So, if we wanted to play this game, it was looking like we were going to have to travel to northern Melbourne regardless of this [Rugby Victoria] rule,” Mr Smith said.
“We will be in the finals without having played for a month.”
Bendigo, Shepparton and Cerberus (Mornington Peninsula) have also missed out on home matches this season due to forfeits by Melbourne teams.
Rugby Victoria acting president Elizabeth Radcliffe confirmed the sport wished to avoid forfeits but did not want to penalise clubs already facing lower participation rates than previous years.
Ballarat’s first XV team plays in the second tier Rugby Victoria Premiership’s reserve competition, often against other clubs’ second XVs.
“We do have rules that seek to discourage this but it is not a professional sport and it is our second tier competition,” Ms Radcliffe said.
“This is not a problem with our top-level Dewar Shield competition, but all of those teams are in the Melbourne metro area.
“That said, we are trying to support and encourage our regional Victorian clubs but there are a lot of challenges more generally. We are dealing with COVID and flu, and a more general participation issue.
“There has been fewer people returning to sport in general since the pandemic. I think people have been wary of making that commitment.”