Finals highlight Australian rugby’s lack of depth
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Well, the dark horses have struck. Few tipped the Sharks to knock off Queensland at Suncorp Stadium last night, even with Quade Cooper missing, but the underdogs silenced their hosts and the doubters with an outstanding display of rugby.
Next week’s second semifinal will now be an emotionally charged derby match between the Sharks and Stormers in Cape Town. Having already beaten the Stormers this season, the men from Natal will undoubtedly be confident of causing another big upset.
The Sharks will no longer be underestimated, that much is certain. Aside from sinking the Reds, last night’s performance sent an unmistakably clear message to the other remaining teams. It was as comprehensive a victory as you are likely to witness in a finals match.
There was a period of at least ten minutes midway through the second half during which the Reds were camped on their opposition’s try line. Queensland spent an eternity hammering away at the visitors’ defense, but the Sharks refused to buckle.
That level of determination wins finals. The Sharks’ stubborn second half defense alone has earned them the right to be taken seriously in these playoffs.
On the other hand, last night’s game ended Australia’s contribution to Super Rugby for another year. This season has been horribly illuminating to say the least.
Queensland, as the most successful Aussie team and the nation’s sole representative in the finals, finished the regular season in sixth place on the overall ladder.
The Reds were granted third position in the final standings for topping the Australian conference, but no objective observer could count them among the competition’s three best teams.
It gets no better when the other Aussie sides are taken into consideration. Three of the five worst teams in Super Rugby this year were Australian: the Waratahs (11th), Rebels (13th) and Force (14th).
Australia provided just two of the top ten teams, and only one of the six finalists.
Could the problem be any more obvious? There is a glaring lack of depth in Australian rugby, and it is growing worse every year. If anyone doubted that before, they have surely been exposed to the truth now.
In fact, the performance of the Reds’ attack without Quade Cooper last night was emblematic of this issue. Earlier this season, before the regular flyhalf returned from injury, Queensland often looked lost on the field.
Ask yourselves, if the Wallabies played a full second string team against any top tier rugby nation, how would the result pan out? Would victory be certain or in serious doubt?
Now ask the same questions for the All Blacks and Springboks. Notice the difference? That is your cue to start worrying.
There are blokes running around playing park footy in New Zealand with more talent than some of Australia’s Super Rugby players.
The suits in charge of Aussie rugby cannot let that situation endure. There needs to be a concentrated effort to improve the development of young talent from the local level up.
Beyond the private schools and prestigious universities of Australia’s big cities, rugby just is not in the recruitment game. In Brisbane and Sydney, most of the young talent is siphoned off to rugby league. Elsewhere the kids dream of playing Aussie Rules.
If Australia wants to compete with the depth of New Zealand and South Africa, those young superstars have to be seduced by rugby. That will require a lot of hard work, concentrated locally. It will also take many years for the dividends to materialise.
It must be done though. Depth is of immense importance in the international arena, and if this year’s Super 15 competition has taught us anything, it is that Australian Rugby is seriously lacking in that department.
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