CAMPO: How I would fix Australian rugby
Australia's David Campese escapes a tackle. AP Photo/Brian Little
I was invited to Zimbabwe by the IRB to help them prepare for the Under 20s World Championship B division in the USA. When I arrived at Harare, it was inspiring to see that, despite their financial challenges, the team was motivated, enthusiastic and genuinely proud to be there.
The IRB have identified a need in Zimbabwe as the talent and popularity of rugby is here, but the infrastructure and resources are seriously lacking.
The bigger picture is that they’re trying to come into contention for the Rugby World Cup, and to do that, it’s vital to improve the standard of the grassroots and stop players going overseas – Pocock, the Beast, Tiechman, Skinstad, and others.
The potential of the players that I worked with is plentiful, but they are raw and need a long-term program. Currently lacking this, the more talented players now play in South Africa.
But it really emphasised just how chalk and cheese it is between a developing country like Zimbabwe and a powerhouse of rugby such as Australia, and how at the top, we have forgotten some of the basics.
Zimbabwe just haven’t got the finances to be competitive on the world stage.
Australian rugby, by contrast, has the financial windfall from generous sponsors, huge crowds and hosting two Rugby World Cups.
We’ve got players galore, and some of the best infrastructure in the world. Yet we’re in a situation where we still struggle, even at Under 20s level.
Is it because we’ve had the same coach for last couple of years? Is it time to move away from that same style of rugby we’ve been playing?
Or is it that the majority of the resources go to the top end of the game at the expense of the grassroots?
One of the biggest factors counting against us right now is that we aren’t encouraging the natural flair of our players. Deans is trying to play rugby with two wingers who can score tries but two centers who can’t create.
Then there’s the emphasis on rugby league-style hit ups, which doesn’t make sense.
The All Blacks are way ahead of us with their style of rugby and their ability to execute the basic skills of the game. We have Beale, O’Connor, Cooper, and Pocock, but, really, who else?
If I was in charge of running Australian rugby, the first thing I’d do is get the rugby league influence out of our thinking and far away from our training grounds.
I’d appoint a good Australian coaching director and have them implement a style of rugby for all teams to work toward, from the national teams to the U7s. I’d then go out to the schools and work with the kids and the coaches to implement it.
Nurturing the grassroots would be a major focus.
I’d also use former Wallaby stars to meet with the kids, so kids could talk to, touch, and interact with some of the real legends of the game.
It’s sad to think that our young players don’t really understand or appreciate the history of Australian rugby. There has been almost no effort from the current administration to school the stars of tomorrow on the great feats of the past.
The emphasis is almost entirely on the modern day Wallabies. And that’s not smart.
You’ve got to understand and appreciate the history of the game. We’ve also got to tell kids about Rugby 7s being an Olympic sport. What kid woud not want to win an Olympic medal? They now can in rugby, and we don’t do enough to promote that.
We need to instill the values of vision, flair and basic skills to the kids. And the enjoyment factor needs to come back.
This week I’m at a Rugby Academy in South Africa. All the kids there are wearing Springbok jumpers. They all want to play for the Boks.
Have we got that same determination amongst the youth in Australia? I don’t think so.
Australian rugby doesn’t get out to the areas where we are not known. We’ve got to compete more vigorously with the rival codes to entice talented kids to take up the game.
Off the field, it’s a case of setting the structure: everyone has a role to do. Get the sponsors to inject more money into the grassroots game.
Club rugby is the breeding ground for the next generation of internationals to come through, but it’s been tragically neglected. We tried to get an Australian Shield going a few years back, but John O’Neill killed it.
But we’ve got to persist.
There are three tiers of top-class rugby in South Africa. We need the same in Australia to remain competitive.
We also must get all the unions together so we can all work together with the kids and all players. We need to unite together and look to the future so that rugby can regain its popularity as one of the top sports in the country.
We need people on the board who have a passion for the game and add value to the game. The key for a board and its members is impartiality. There should be no allegiance to anyone. Australian rugby needs to move forward and it is is crying out for the right people to lead us there.
On a final note, it was refreshing to see that Paddy O’Brien is now finished as Referees Chairman, and the former Scottish breakaway, John Jeffries, is the new boss.
Let’s hope this sees a change in the refereeing of international rugby, for the better.
This is the Second in a four-part Rugby Solutions series running this week on The Roar. Our rugby experts will be answering the question: If you were in charge of Australian rugby, how would you fix the problems you see and make us the number one rugby country in the world, again?
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