HODGSON: Imagine if all our stars played rugby union
Matt Hodgson for the Force forces his way through the Stormers defence (AAP Image/ Tony McDonough)
The long trip with the Western Force to South Africa found us in a new country, new time zone, and with a different currency.
But one thing in common stands out between our two countries – our love and passion for sport.
Unlike back home, though, South Africa has rugby union everywhere. Just as when we go to New Zealand, it is amazing being in a place where rugby union is so prominent, and the number one sport in the country. Even during the Rugby World Cup, the excitement around rugby in Australia does not come close to a normal day in these nations.
Such dominant countries, along with comments made this year challenging Australia’s ability to provide enough player depth to sustain five Super teams, has me thinking what Australian rugby would be like if it were the dominant national sport.
Imagine, if rugby were the prominent code in Australia, the talent pool that we could call upon. If the top talent from all the football codes had chosen careers in rugby instead of AFL or rugby league.
There are an abundance of athletes in Australia who would have and could still make a huge contribution to rugby union if they chose to lend their time to our sport. Of course, it would be ideal if they were imprinted with rugby from a young age. But with the physical attributes and skills of some athletes, even a few years of core training and practice could see a transformation, similar to what Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt are doing in the AFL.
I can see a number of players bolstering the ranks. Imagine the likes of Aaron Sandilands, at 211cm and 122kg, packing down next to Nathan Sharpe or James Horwill. Sandilands would currently cover more kilometres in a game than any back in rugby, and would easily stand over the like of Andries Bekker.
Imagine a backline that contained our current group of youngsters in Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor, then throw in the Hawthorn great Buddy Franklin. There goes the opposition’s chance of playing high balls, and those three on counter would be a sight to behold.
How would you defend that? I know I would hate to do a video analysis on a team that contained those three.
So there’s the second row and the back three sorted, just by adding AFL players. If we now turn our thoughts to the NRL we could have Cooper Cronk or Johnathan Thurston fill in at 10, or they could form your 10 and 12 combination if you wanted to have two ball-playing types in the midfield.
And if I take this dream further, you can’t forget one of the greatest of all three football codes, Billy Slater.
I can hear the commentators now: “Genia to Thurston, a cut pass that misses O’Connor to find Beale, who has both Slater and Franklin in support.” The crowd would be on their feet and salivating with anticipation of what they were about to see. Anything would be possible with so much talent on the pitch.
Here we have all three contact football codes coming together to create a team that would boast the best of the best. A similar strategy would definitely be able to fill all five Australian Super franchises with international-quality talent.
If rugby union were the premier football code in Australia, then there would be countless flow-on benefits to the game beyond the talent pool. The facilities that would be provided would be world-best, state-of-the-art venues for both the playing and viewing pleasure of all.
Imagine sitting in a rectangular stadium each week filled with 80,000 screaming fans in Subiaco. This alone would create a far greater spectacle, regardless of what was on the field, and crowds like these are one of the reasons that we all love sport.
Media coverage would be comprehensive and all games would screen live with the code’s own channel, like the AFL now has on Fox. It would involve best-of-the-best conditions, and it would produce best-of-the-best rugby.
There are so many players in all three codes who have the natural skill and the athletic ability to have made fine rugby players. Aside from those mentioned above, I would go after Matthew Pavlich, Chris Judd, Gary Ablett, Dean Cox, Nic Natanui, Dallas Johnson, Ryan Hoffman, Corey Parker, Dave Taylor, and Greg Inglis.
I know as a player, a fan and just as a sports-loving Australian, I would love to see what it would look like if rugby union were the number one sporting code in Australia, like it is in the countries of our Southern Hemisphere neighbours.
Matt Hodgson is a current Wallaby, inaugural Western Force Player and contributor to The Roar. Matt is focused on rugby but excited by the next phase of his career in Sports Management, Training and professional endeavours. Check out www.matthodgson.com.au for the latest.