Is Australian rugby short of players or coaches?
Ewen McKenzie. AP Photo/Francois Mori
The Waratahs’ loss to the Brumbies on the weekend has a lot of supporters consigning another season to the dustbin, as the Canberra-faithfuls plan their team’s route to the finals.
I must admit it is frustrating to see NSW take another strong team to an (expected) mid-table finish, but exciting to watch Jake White assemble a bunch of no-names into a well-oiled machine.
The question I am torn over is this: are the two teams’ differing fortunes this year an interesting by-product of Australian rugby’s lack of quality in players, or coaches?
The two arguments go like this:
Australian rugby has never had the depth or quality to produce a consistently successful Super team like the Crusaders.
The Brumbies have typically countered this problem by picking players out of left field, often unwanted by the bigger provinces (read: the Waratahs).
Occasionally, they manage to do a sort of rugby alchemy and assemble a collection of pure gold.
It is fantastic to watch the Brumbies when they hit a purple patch, and I hope it leads to another great generation of Wallabies.
However, let’s not forget that in between these times, Brumbies supporters have to endure years of pretty terrible football.
Plenty of picks have turned out to be duds, and we’ve all seen the team turn up and play a style of rugby I call “Can’t Be Arsed”.
The team can get away with this cycle because the supporters and union accept it. I suspect it’s part of being used to living off Sydney’s scraps.
Of course, such a cycle would never be acceptable in Sydney – they’re the ACT’s big brother.
The NSW supporters/union/media expect to win every year. They can’t take a chance on too many raw or unproven players, because the idea of a ‘rebuilding phase’ just won’t cut it.
And because of this different attitude, the Waratahs have been a good team much more consistently than have the Brumbies – their recent finals record says so.
But they have also never hit the highs of their cousins in the capital.
I think of the Waratahs like the Australian Crusaders – a gathering of a lot of the country’s biggest and best names. In many ways, the strength of the Waratahs is a true reflection of the strength of Australian playing stocks.
Australia’s Crusaders are just not quite as good as New Zealand’s.
Jake White has managed to turn up in the ACT and quickly turn a bunch of no-names into a potential Super Rugby powerhouse.
The playing quality has been here the whole time – the coaches just haven’t been here to use it.
Yes, the Brumbies have been up and down like a yo-yo in their past. But their last golden generation was raised by Rod Macqueen and Eddie Jones, and this time round they’re being nurtured by White.
It seems that all the ACT boys need is a decent coach and they become world beaters.
What is clearest about the Brumbies this year is that they are all on the same page.
They come out each week with a strong game-plan, in which each individual has a well-defined role. In such a scenario, there is no need for individual brilliance, to produce something out of nothing.
Rather, the team as a whole creates opportunities, and all individuals are at least skilled enough to capitalise.
The Tahs on the other hand are not playing cohesively enough to consistently create and capitalise on opportunities, regardless of the individual strength of the players.
This was perhaps most on show last weekend – the forwards clearly had the wood on the Brumbies for much of the game, but nobody seemed quite sure what to do about it.
On a number of occasions, the forwards punched holes in the defence, only to find nobody had thought to run off their shoulder in support.
Had they been better coached and better drilled, the result could have been vastly different.
So what do people think?
Are there loads of George Smiths and Stirling Mortlocks running around in club and junior rugby, just waiting to be moulded into stars?
Or is it more a matter of the Brumbies managing to assemble what few talented youngsters this country has?
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