Rugby Australia returned to profit last year after controversially axing one of its Super Rugby sides, and despite a horror season by the Wallabies, it announced Monday.

The governing body recorded an Aus$5.2 million (US$3.7 million) surplus in 2018, a big turnaround from an Aus$3.7 million loss the previous year.

It attributed the result to smaller costs of players and other funding after Western Force were dumped from Super Rugby, leaving Australia with four franchises in the southern hemisphere competition.

But Rugby Australia chairperson Cameron Clyne warned of a loss in 2019, a scenario that often plays out in a World Cup year when there are fewer home Tests.

And he said the Michael Cheika-led Wallabies, who won only four of 13 Tests last year, must do better to win back fans and inspire the next generation.

“While we have once again experienced significant growth in women’s rugby, growth in club XVs, and substantial growth in Sevens, it is undeniable that the performance of the Wallabies rightly or wrongly overshadowed some of the other successes of our code,” said Clyne.

“To achieve our ambitions for the game we need winning teams that can galvanise support from millions of Australians and inspire generations of future players.

“When this happens, the financial benefits follow, which means there is more money available to invest across the game.”

A major plus point in 2018 was growth in all formats of rugby in clubs and schools, led by women, Rugby Australia said.

Participation in the traditional 15-a-side game rose for the first time in several years, with the states of Queensland and Tasmania leading the way.

Notably, the number of females playing rugby has more than doubled over the past three years. In 2018, 63,443 women took part to make up 23 percent of Australia’s total playing population.

This included a 57 percent boost in females playing Sevens rugby and a 50 percent increase in the 15-a-side game, with a new national women’s XVs competition, Super W, sparking greater interest.

Source: AFP