Management failures to blame for Quade saga
Wallabies player Quade Cooper. AAP Image/Dave Hunt
A cardinal sin has been committed in Australian rugby and must be redressed if the game is to survive, let alone thrive.
Sins may be forgiven. Mortal sins though, extinguish your soul and condemn you to an eternal BBQ in hell, not as the guest, chatting with mates and comfortably sipping a cold one while balancing a flimsy paper plate chock full of charred dead animal of dubious hygienic standards, but as the main course.
Eternal Damnation. That, if you are not familiar with the creed, is about as bad as it gets.
We have seen quite a few sins in Australian rugby of late, beginning with the controversial World Cup selections/omissions, bizarre coaching decisions, tactics and at times nonsensical use of the bench.
Since then we have seen a continuation of broken and disjointed play, patchy wins, surprising losses and outright embarrassing floggings. The injury list of first choice squad members is the largest I’ve seen, and it’s still growing.
Yes, we are still number two in the world, but this ranking owes a lot more to the state of rugby in other countries than it does to the state of Australian rugby.
These are all sins of a sort. Sins however, which can be atoned for. Forgiveness and redemption are possible. The keys to heaven are merely a Bledisloe Cup or Lions series clean sweep away.
The sin committed by John O’Neill and the ARU today goes way beyond these minor transgressions. They are, without a doubt, standing on the precipice.
Quade Cooper is a mercurial figure, an athlete blessed with outstanding skill, flair and imagination, but for all of that he is still a typical twenty-something male, thrust into the limelight of success, wealth and fame without the maturity of later years.
Australian rugby needs players like Cooper. Many have been shocked by his tweets and that interview, viewing it as an unpardonable breach of the code, or talking out of school. Many others though, perhaps the majority of Wallaby fans, are hoping, some secretly perhaps, that he is right.
The ARU and Jon O’Neill are custodians of the code in this country. They work for and ultimately at the behest of the players, grassroots volunteers and public supporters who keep the code alive in the face of harsh competition.
As custodians they have many duties, from the development of the code at schoolboy and grassroots level to the promotion and management of the embodiment of rugby in Australia: the Wallabies.
At this elite level they are expected, in their quest to produce winning results and entertaining tests, to manage the performance, development and expectations of the players.
There is no transparency in this process, and perhaps there should be more. With more transparency, maybe there would be more accountability at the highest level.
Australian fans are sick of meaningless soundbites, trotted out by a barely comprehensible coach after each poor outing. Listening to Robbie Deans is akin to reading a book of great sports quotes: any page in the book will do.
Let’s roll our tongue around that word again: manage. Lord knows that managing young alpha males is not always easy, but if it were easy then anyone could do it.
These people, O’Neill and the ARU, have been employed at great cost primarily for their management skills. At virtually every management course you are told that the cardinal rule of people management is to praise in public and punish in private.
That the ARU and Jon O’Neill have responded negatively to Quade, in the public arena, speaks more of their incompetence and lack of management skills than almost every other failing. They, as management, are supposed to be better than those they manage.
That Quade has made the public comments he has is proof enough that in this particular case, they have failed to manage him.
The Wallabies’ diabolical performances, and the attitudes of those Wallabies who are not brave (or stupid) enough to speak out, serve as further proof of systemic failures to manage the code and the players. Management’s response to Cooper in the public arena is now the ultimate evidence of its utter failure to manage.
I don’t care whether Quade Cooper was right to speak out. The focus should be on what he said, and many people suspect that his words rang true. If something really is rotten in the state of Australian rugby then we certainly have a right to know.