Australian rugby is in a deep and dark hole.

The Wallabies are dead last in the Rugby Championship, their Super Rugby teams are seriously uncompetitive and most disturbingly, the Australian sporting public just doesn't care all that much.

It's been like this before. There was, way back in a time when petrol cost 11c a litre, a team called the Awful Aussies. They had a 13-match tour of New Zealand in 1972.

Things didn't start so well. In the first match Otago beat them 26-0. In the last match, the third test, the All Blacks whipped them 38-3. In between they lost the other two tests, as well as going down to Hawke's Bay, Waikato and, get this, West-Coast Buller (Bay of Plenty snatched a 6-all draw!).

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A try was only worth four points then too.

We felt sorry for them.

We, that is New Zealand rugby players, fans and administrators, also decided a weak Australia was no good for the sport, so we helped them.

Within two years, New South Wales and Queensland – still the only places in Australia where rugby union really matters – started playing regular matches against New Zealand provincial unions. These were essentially pre-season matches in April and May, before the main part of our representative season began.

New Zealand helped their coaches too. Bob Templeton, boss of those Awful Aussies, reached out to New Zealand when things hit rock bottom. He was still there, as an assistant coach, when Australia won the World Cup in 1991.

What those transtasman rep games did was expose Australian state players to New Zealand's best provinces. The concept worked. In 1974 the Aussies drew a test with the All Blacks and in 1978 Greg Cornelsen scored four tries in a famous win at Eden Park.

The Wallaby rugby revival of 40 years ago was no accident. New Zealand played a huge role. The Bledisloe Cup rivalry was cemented and would remain relevant and strong for more than three decades before collapsing once more to the sorry state of 2018.

All Blacks midfield back Ngani Laumape in action, during the second Bledisloe Cup rugby test match between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. Photo / File
All Blacks midfield back Ngani Laumape in action, during the second Bledisloe Cup rugby test match between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. Photo / File

Australian rugby is moribund again, and once more it's time for New Zealand to help.

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We're isolated enough as it is from the big marketplaces of the game. We need a strong neighbour.

Here's a suggestion to make Australian rugby strong once more.

Make the two countries one market for players.

As Australia is now moving towards a central contracts system like New Zealand, players from both countries should be allowed to play for Super Rugby clubs either side of the Tasman.

If Australian clubs had access to New Zealand players, they'd become better teams. There's some decent Australian talent that New Zealand Super team wouldn't mind getting hold of either.

It will mean no difference to national team eligibility. A player will be identified and contracted as a New Zealander or an Australian. But by mixing Australian players into New Zealand teams and vice versa, the dominance of New Zealand teams in Super Rugby would be evened out.

Then, as sure as night follows day, the performance of the Wallabies will lift too.

We can laugh all we want at the current woes of the game in Australia, but another five years of what's going on at the moment, and rugby in Australia will be a minority code on its death bed.

New Zealand is the rugby world's player powerhouse. We can play a big role, again, in helping the game survive at the neighbour's place.

Then the Crusaders might not win Super Rugby every year, and the All Blacks might even lose the Bledisloe Cup occasionally.

But wouldn't real competition be good again?