CAMPO: Let’s look to the past to kickstart the future
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John O'Neill, (L) with Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chairman Michael Hawker (R), speaks at a press conference in Sydney on October 12, 2012 after an announcement that he will stand down as the ARU chief executive at the end of October 2012. (AFP Photo / Greg Wood)
So John O’Neill has finally stepped aside. I’m wondering why he didn’t he take the underperforming Robbie Deans with him.
O’Neill, in my humble opinion, has effectively destroyed our rugby history and left us destitute. He seemed totally consumed with leaving his mark behind.
And he sure did a great job of that.
History will always remind us of low Australian rugby fell with O’Neill at the helm.
A few years back, I was watching the Wallabies play the Springboks in Queensland. I was returning to my seat at one point when I came across a gathering of some of the greats of the game – Ken Catchpole and others from his era.
It turns out they were having their 40 year reunion. There was no official function, no gala event, no bells and whistles for some of our finest ever players and their partners.
Just a few beers, some camping chairs, and a basket of chips.
This infuriated me. How disgraceful and what utter disrespect to the history of Australian rugby and those who contributed to the rise of one of the most dominant rugby nations.
Only in Australia.
The modern Australian players seem to know or care little about the past. I suppose it’s not all their fault.
They haven’t been inspired or reminded of the feats of the greats before them, all thanks to the influence of O’Neill.
He made it clear he was determined to wipe the slate clean of the past and use an autocratic approach to controlling every single aspect of administering the Australian Rugby Union.
I’ve become even more aware of this lately as I’m currently travelling in the UK for a month speaking and coaching kids.
At these functions, I often hear former players like Sean Fitzpatrick speak about the wonderful history of New Zealand rugby. It is so interesting and inspiring to hear these stories.
In response, I find myself, embarrassingly, with not much to say or reflect on.
And it’s reinforced again when you see first-hand just how passionate fans in Wales, Scotland and England are about their rugby. They just love the game, and they appreciate and thrive on its traditions.
In 1996, my last year of rugby for the Wallabies, we had a team meeting at which JON, who was CEO, announced that they were bringing out a new Wallaby jersey. They were then modeled to us and the media, with O’Neill gushing that he wanted the players’ opinion on them and that the design would be done in ‘collaboration with the players.’
Do you think we were even asked our opinion? As with all other decisions, it had already been made.
It was just a show for the cameras and a photo opportunity for the ARU.
On a positive note, there is hope that O’Neill’s decision to step aside will usher in a more positive era for Australian rugby, one where respect for the past and planning for the future will happily sit side-by-side.
There is no doubt we are crying out for it.
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