Sports

Wallabies will go head to head with Socceroos’ World Cup opener

The main risk of going head-to-head with the Socceroos is that in the non-rugby market of Melbourne, fewer fans are likely to make their way through the turnstiles.

Compounding the problem is the Hawthorn-Adelaide AFL clash at the neighbouring Melbourne Cricket Ground at the same time, which is likely to pull a sizeable crowd.

Last year, the Wallabies played their first Test of the year in Melbourne under blue skies but in front of only 13,583 fans.

It was the worst Wallabies crowd in the professional era and there is genuine concern that unless rugby pundits get around Michael Cheika’s men, that number could fall even lower.

That figure may have been affected by the fact scores of Melbourne rugby fans boycotted the match against Fiji, which Australia won 37-14, to give a two-fingered to the Australian Rugby Union for their controverisial handling of cutting a Super Rugby team.

The quality of opposition this year is far more enticing for fans though, with Ireland coming to Australian shores fresh off Six Nations glory and their first Grand Slam since 2009.

It is understood ticket sales are going well for the first and third Wallabies Tests in Brisbane (June 9) and Sydney (June 23).

Rugby Australia took a punt last year by scheduling three June Tests against Fiji, Scotland and Italy in the afternoon at 3pm.

While the change in times was warmly received by rugby fans, there was a significant financial cost to Rugby Australia given the 8pm timeslot is preferred by broadcasters from an advertising and audience perspective.

It won’t be an issue in Brisbane and Sydney but when sports fans have to decide between watching the Socceroos embark on their first World Cup assignment or tune in for a Wallabies Test, that is where things could get problematic.

Melbourne has a healthy soccer fan base and there is no doubt pubs in the city will be bursting at the seams, full of green and gold jerseys – perhaps without a Wallaby on the front.

There are, however, other code clashes on June 16. The Cronulla Sharks face the Brisbane Broncos at 7.35pm, while there will an AFL game at the MCG with Hawthorn tackling the Adelaide Crows at 7.25pm.

There is next to no chance the NRL or AFL will move their fixtures to accommodate a soccer tournament on the other side of the world.

Meanwhile, David Pocock’s quest to return to the Wallabies will begin next weekend in Canberra as he prepares to line up for the ACT Brumbies against the NSW Waratahs.

Pocock is on track to recover from the early season knee surgery which has sidelined him from the Brumbies’ first four matches of the season.

The Brumbies and Waratahs have the bye this weekend and will be desperate to win in the nation’s capital next Saturday evening.

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Tom Decent is a journalist with Fairfax Media.

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