Tracking the Wallabies steps to redemption
Recovering alcoholics undergo 12 steps towards redemption and an alcohol free lifestyle.
Many supporters of the Wallabies could agree on at least 12 different steps that this team needs in order to improve.
In this series of articles for The Roar I want to examine these steps. Some will cover ground already well traversed by the forum participants. But hopefully each step can provide some targeted/consolidated area for criticism and discussion of where the current Wallabies are going wrong (and maybe right).
Today I am going to focus on the grass-roots of rugby.
Advocates of improvement in this area step usually fall into three main schools of thought:
Rugby union can’t compete with the other codes (AFL, Football, Rugby League).
We need more boys from public schools. Lets move away from the elitist model of rugby.
Our lack of a genuine third tier of rugby (e.g. Currie Cup/ITM Cup) creates a lack of depth.
I want to test each of these camps and propose some suggestions for addressing them – as step one to addressing some potential problems with the Wallabies.
To understand this approach, you have to accept the fundamental assumption that the Wallabies as a team (and most importantly a team culture) are very much a product of their experiences (collectively and individually).
Rugby Union can’t compete with other codes.
It is clear that rugby in Australia will have to compete with other codes. Having accepted this, the question becomes; do we compete directly or do we differentiate ourselves as a game. What level should we decide to compete on – for players, ratings/tv, georgaphic areas?
As John Eales mentioned in his Sydney Morning Herald article earlier this week, rugby in Australia has been cursed in some ways by it’s global appeal. AFL and Rugby League are so insular to Australia, and ingrained uniquely in the culture, they are naturally strongly supported by the country as a whole.
The analogy being similar to New Zealand where rugby is strongly supported as a part of the culture.
Its therefore unrealistic to expect a game that is still seen as an English private school game, rugby union, to compete with the uniquely Australian offering that is AFL.
So why bother competing?
It is a bit of a radical idea, but why not just concentrate on your core market and make sure you nail that area?
The best way to promote our code is not to go out and drop rugby balls off in the greater Western Sydney or to open another franchise in Melbourne. Instead – concentrate on the rugby strongholds, develop the game and engender success there.
Success will do wonders for the marketing of our game. People want to watch and kids want to be a part of a winning teams. They don’t want to see their teams lose every weak. So do not dilute the product. No one likes weak cordial.
Public instead versus private schools.
Proponents of this argument seem to take for granted that public school players will give up whatever sport they are happy playing now to play rugby union.
This ignores the fact that the infrastructure for such a change in sports played is plainly not there, nor will there ever be as long as GPS type schools continue to believe that they are the be all and end of all of schoolboy rugby in Australia.
GPS schools, as a matter of pride, have a vested interest in keeping the schoolboys game limited. Initiatives such as The Top Four in New Zealand need to be embraced. This competition does not separate schools on the basis of being private, public or independent as happens in Australia.
If kids are exposed to playing against people from other social backgrounds representative teams drawn from these competitions would naturally be more inclusive and representative.
Lack of a third tier in Australian rugby.
There is not currently a legitimate third tier.
Watching Sydney club rugby is a joke. Why more players are not taking the opportunity to ply their trade in the ITM cup as a sort of overseas experiences is beyond me.
It pains me to watch players like Gareth Anscombe develop and develop at that level. Other young players get to be in the same atmospheres as fringe all blacks such as Adam Thomson or Tamati Ellison. Australians simply need to expose themselves to these rigours.
Cricketers have been playing County Cricket for years to develop their all round game. Why can’t rugby players do the same?
The need to play in a New Zealand competition stems from a fundamental acceptance that New Zealanders as a country are better at rugby and have a better rugby culture. Accept this and go over there and learn from it. Don’t try to start some decrepit third tier that has no chance of working.
So those are the main grassroots arguments addressed. I hope to discuss these issues with some of you who care.