2013 rugby: Where do the priorities lie?

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Australia's fly half Kurtley Beale scores a try in the final seconds to win the match between Wales and Australia at the Millennium Stadium, in Cardiff, Wales, on December 1, 2012. Australia won the match 14-12. (AFP Photo / Paul Ellise)

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Last year was jam-packed on the rugby front to the point that even I, a confessed rugby addict, found it difficult to muster up the effort to sit through the European tour.

You know life is tough when it pains me to spend more time on the couch and don’t get me wrong, I like nothing better than having the down and out Wallabies upset the Poms on their home turf and pip the Welsh at the finish line one more time to cap off the year.

It appears I have the memory of a gold fish, as I no doubt spent more of 2011 staring at the box watching blokes ruck and maul around a field, given it was a World Cup year. However, I digress.

Much discussion and argument has been publicised about the player management for the upcoming Lions tour and the subsequent Wallabies fixtures to take place later in the year.

Michael Cheika blew a gasket last week, following the Wallabies logistics camp whereby he was promised no physical activity was to be undertaken.

Apparently playing touch against a bunch of backpackers doesn’t constitute physical activity. In my experience, whenever backpackers are involved in touching one another, it results in an inordinate amount of physical exertion.

The result of playing catch and kiss with some English backpackers was a rolled ankle to the much improved Kane Douglas, cutting his pre-season by two weeks.

Cheika wasn’t finding the humour or value in the exercise and tactfully commented the repercussions were “hard to swallow”. It again highlights the importance of player management and how to best plan for the year ahead for Australian Rugby.

It’s become apparent in Australian cricket that rotation policies in teams seem to be to the detriment of the on-going rhythm and cohesion of the team. Drawing comparisons between two very different sports can be hazardous, but you would imagine the same possible outcome is quite likely if rugby were to employ the same tactics.

There is an argument to be made that this allows for up-and-comers to break it in the big time, get their names known to the general public and gain invaluable experience. This tends to be the main justification of having such a strategy, together with allowing players to rest up and overcome those on-going niggles.

I agree there is certain merit in rotating players but at what expense? As Australian Ruby recently appointed a new chairman from a business background, I thought it would be apt to look at this from a business point of view.

In essence, it’s a fairly basic cost/benefit analysis and the fundamentals of the mission ahead come down to the primary objectives the ARU and rugby community wish to achieve.

James Horwill mentioned at the beginning of last year the number one goal of the Wallabies was to become the top ranked nation. While I’m a big supporter of Horwill, I found this goal to be a bit too vague.

It wasn’t really hitting the nail on the head as to how the Wallabies plan on achieving this (other than the obvious, perhaps winning every game). I find myself oblivious to the key priority for the year ahead.

There are four main events for the 15-a-side game; the Super Rugby title, the Lions tour, Bledisloe and Rugby Championship.

The vast majority are going to say nailing the Lions 3-zip would see them content, while not overwhelmed with joy. I think it has to be realised that focusing on this one achievement is going to have detrimental consequences that are being overlooked.

Namely, are the Australian rugby community going to be content winning the Lions series but again failing to bring home the Bledisloe Cup and/or the Rugby championship title?

How will be look back on the 2013 should we lose the Lions series but somehow manage to achieve what has seemingly become impossible – beating the All Blacks twice at home and preventing Zac Guilford from trying to fill the cup to the brim, scull and find himself being yet another news item.

The above points focus on the achievements and tournaments surrounding the Wallabies, but maybe overlook Australian rugby as a whole.

One can even extend the question to what many would consider the unfathomable: What if an Australian team managed two teams in the Super Rugby finals and managed to somehow win the trophy back?

Cheika and Ewen McKenzie have had a bit to say about the Super Rugby versus Wallabies trade off, and are firmly against the idea to quarantine any Wallabies for the three weeks leading into the mid-season fixtures.

It’s a valid point that by doing this, the Super Rugby sides aren’t going to be putting the best team on the park and get the results they are capable of achieving.

The relationship between Super Rugby and international rugby isn’t so much symbiotic as it is parasitic. That is to say, success in international rugby doesn’t necessarily lead toward success at Super Rugby but rather it is being touted as unfavourable.

It’s rational to say success at Super Rugby does make it more likely to achieve greater success on the international stage.

For those who are more numerically inclined, since the beginning of the tri-nations, the country that has won the Super competition has gone on to win the international tournament 12 of the 17 times. While that passes the sniff test for most of us, looking at that statistically shows there is a fairly distinct correlation between the two.

So I pose the question, at what point do we write off any chance of a Super team succeeding in the year to come to give ourselves the best chance in the international fixtures? Where does the equilibrium lie between making sure we as Australians are no longer seen as the weakest link of Super Rugby, while also ensuring we can stick it to the British and Kiwis before the year is out?

After a year of nail-biting and constant bickering, any one of the trophies for next year will leave me satisfied but I realise I’m generally not the greediest of supporters. I am a Reds supporter, and went through a long decade of disappointment before I could jump around and ‘accidently’ spill a large lick of my beer on the surrounding Waratahs supporters in 2011.

I think everyone has reached the common understanding that some sort of strategy needs to be put in place, particularly after we ran out of seats in the injury ward this past season. I noticed the point made in a comment earlier this week that the strategy should have been in place long before now, but better late than never.

Perhaps there is a plan but scouring rugby article after rugby article, I’m at a loss to guess what that is (unless the plan is to leave everyone in the dark, whereby they would be doing a stellar job).

Generally the best laid plans have the ultimate goal in mind other than ‘win everything and take over the world’. It seems that performing at the rate the All Blacks manage is most likely out of reach this year, so if we had to sacrifice one or possible two of the four main events, which are they going to be?

The Insider’s article from Tuesday Provinces must realise Wallabies come first highlights the public’s general underlying consensus.

With the direct relationship between a successful Super Rugby campaign and a triumphant international season, maybe sacrificing provincial rugby isn’t going to achieve that ultimate goal.

I have come up with one solution: if we were to kidnap Brad Thorn, clone him on Australian soil, ensure all offspring (including the girls) play rugby, in future the rotation of players wouldn’t be required.

This strategy might struggle to really impact on next season. So I guess back to the drawing board.

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