Rugby: Signings highlight Australian Super franchise gap

Ben Tapuai was one of three major signings the Reds Super Rugby franchise named on Monday. Source / Getty Images
Ben Tapuai was one of three major signings the Reds Super Rugby franchise named on Monday. Source / Getty Images

The struggle to attract talent to Australia's two battling Super Rugby outfits was highlighted again on Monday when three young Queensland players re-signed with the Reds.

The talented trio of centre Ben Tapuai and wingers Dom Shipperley and Rod Davies opted to stay in Brisbane despite no assurances they'll get a large slice of game time with the 2011 champions.

It underlined the difficulty the Western Force and Melbourne, who racked up just seven wins between them this season, face when trying to lure players away from the traditional rugby bases of Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra.

The trio's decision to commit until the end of 2014 adds to a big few months of retention and recruitment for the Reds, who have contributed significantly to a gloomy few months for the Force.

Queensland pinched Force coach Richard Graham in April and, after they thought they'd got one back on the Reds and coaxed Will Genia west, the Wallabies halfback suddenly reneged on the deal.

The Perth-based team last month probably copped their biggest blow when skipper David Pocock said he couldn't win any silverware with the Force and signed with the Brumbies.

Also in the Reds backline, five-eighth Quade Cooper recently re-signed through until the end of 2015 while Digby Ioane, Ben Lucas and Anthony Faingaa also committed to Queensland over the past 12 months.

Tapuai and Davies, both 23, face a daunting task to break back into the side after they missed a large chunk of the 2012 season through injury as the defending Super champions won the Australian conference but got beaten in the first week of the playoffs by the Sharks.

While they sat on the sidelines, 21-year-old Shipperley enjoyed a breakout season, playing every minute of all 17 matches and scoring eight tries including a 70-metre effort after the siren to beat the Waratahs in round one.

Ioane is a certainty on the other wing for the Reds, fullback Luke Morahan and centre Mike Harris also blossomed in 2012 to earn Wallabies debuts and hard-tackling centre Faingaa is a favourite in the midfield.

While classy utility Lucas and highly-rated 18-year-old Chris Feauai-Sautia will be waiting in the wings.

The Rebels and Force could do with a sprinkling of players of this calibre in their backlines as they face up to criticism from their New Zealand and South African rivals that Australia can't sustain five franchises.

All three of Monday's signings have also been rewarded with national squad selection during the past two seasons with Tapuai and Shipperley involved in the 2012 training set-up, while Davies made his Wallabies debut against Samoa in 2011.

"Despite their young age Ben, Dom and Rod have all produced amazing results in our rugby program, so it's extremely pleasing to retain their services heading into what will be the peak of their careers," said Reds coach Ewen McKenzie, who is set to hand over the reins to Graham.

"Our entire squad is voting with their feet and choosing to stay in Queensland."

- AAP

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