Ask any Wallabies supporter the reason for the team’s recent troubles and you will receive almost any kind of deluded response.
Robbie Deans has gone from being one of the finest coaches in the world to a hideous third-rater, perhaps even capsizing his charge intentionally as a consequence of New Zealand origin. Matt Giteau somehow manages to poison the entire Wallabies performance from the all-commanding position of inside centre. The team, unlike other top rank professional rugby players, lose their heads and discipline at the slightest provocation. More reasonably, they are ravaged by injuries and what remains is a limping skeleton of the presumably world-beating ensemble when fit.
If all the Wallabies were healthy and Graham Henry were coach, they would suddenly master the All Blacks of course?
The earlier reasons are manifest nonsense. Robbie Deans is clearly a world-class coach at the helm of resources so drab that not even the greatest coaching magician could conjure them into gold.
The last excuse, that the players are all injured, has the largest element of truth and is therefore the most dangerous. Granted players like Quade Cooper, Digby Ioane and Wycliff Palu would improve the current team significantly, but teams always have injured or suspended players. New Zealand are currently missing Sitiveni Sivivatu and Ali Williams and have lost half a side worth of first choice players overseas. The fact remains that even with a fit Wallabies outfit New Zealand look far more impressive in playing strength as will South Africa once they adjust to a new style of play.
Australian rugby must face the deep, terrible truth behind the current crisis: a significant demise in the number of high quality players the game is producing.
It’s uncomfortable to face such a fundamental problem as the players produced by the game as a whole simply not being talented enough, but it is necessary to do so.
A question was pointed out recently which every Wallaby fan should ask themselves before condemning Robbie Deans again.
How many Wallabies would make the All Black starting 15? Honestly? Let’s say Rocky Elsom, Will Genia, maybe Benn Robinson. A total of three is optimistic. How on earth is Deans or even Merlin the wizard supposed to beat an opposition almost every single player of which is superior to his own?
(That Deans could get his side within 10 points of them is something of a miracle of coaching).
This was not always the case. The teams of the 90s would have several players in the All Blacks, even a world 15. There is obviously a decline, and it is due to the limited number of career opportunities the game presents with only four Super teams.
The number of professional places four teams offer is ridiculous for a country with aspirations to be the best in the world. Players do not simply appear in fully formed perfection and often need high level exposure in order to develop. Four teams can only provide that exposure to a very small number, and if a player cannot make his way into a team his career is effectively finished.
With double the number of Super teams, more contracts could be offered to young players who otherwise go off to the NRL, the game would grow as feeder clubs led directly into contracts with the mother team, and eventually the two or three extra world class players necessary to make the Wallabies a potentially world-beating team would emerge.
The only alternative to Super rugby is a hypothetical national competition which would provide far more places. However, the ARU has committed itself to the current format and with the expanded season running until august it’s hard to see how such a national competition could run long enough, pay large enough salaries to attract young players to the game and overall be a major force. At best it could be a minor addition which would make a small difference.
As a result, given that Super rugby is here to stay, the solution is for several more Super teams to provide more places for young players and generally to expand the game in geography and supporter base. I would suggest that now some expansion into markets outside the heartlands has taken place, it is time to shore up New South Wales and Queensland. Teams in Western Sydney and the Gold Coast should be established immediately, instantly doubling the number of professional contracts that can be offered in these player-rich states.
There is a tremendous hullaballoo raised whenever a Super team is set up as if it is some tremendously difficult feat. In fact is no more than a rugby club, the only different problem it faces being the travel expenses to the other member countries. This should not be so much of an obstacle as the competition is increasingly based on significant numbers of matches against other Australian teams rather than New Zealand or South African opposition. Not only that, but the extra length of the season, which should be extended even further by the way, will lead in itself to much greater revenue from crowds and eventually television.
The Melbourne Rebels have shown a model for how to found a new team. One third foreign players, one third up and coming Australian players and one third rugby league converts. This kind of team can be competitive until the franchise begins to develop its own young players from the environment it represents who will then fill the places. Backed by private equity and corporate sponsorship and with a long season, a team like this can easily be a financial success.
There is no reason why this model cannot simply repeated. In addition to the two teams mentioned a further one should soon be added in New South Wales, with final expansion to Adelaide and Newcastle.
The ARU must create another Sydney and Queensland team straight away, and should allow South Africa and New Zealand to have as many teams as they in their own segment of the competition should they stand in the way.
Otherwise one day even the proudest Wallabies supporter’s excuse-making faculties will run dry.