A rising tide lifts all boats

gatesy Roar Guru

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    A rising tide lifts all boats. What does that mean?

    The game against South Africa on Saturday gave me pause for thought.

    The result? I think the Wallabies need to harden up.

    Not as people, they are already great blokes – but as competitors, and not in competition with their opposing teams, but in competition with other ambitious Aussie blokes trying as hard as they can to knock them out of their position and take their shirt.

    That, after all, is the true measure, and let’s hark back to the amateur days. There was no privilege, the coach was not burdened with people under contracts – he could pick who he wanted and often did.

    There was no playing favourites. It must be a bit harder for coaches in the professional era, stuck with blokes whose contract they may not have been involved in. Having to worry about ‘industrial relations’ issues, and motivating highly paid kids who earn more than they do.

    The likes of Alan Jones would have been more interested in the man’s character than his rugby pedigree, although that would have helped.

    In the amateur days, the grassroots was strong by definition, because we were all grassroots – yeah a bit of privilege in the schools system, and not a bad thing, because look at all those doctors and lawyers and other successful people who played back then.

    Men of steel, in more ways than one. A gritty mind, a gritty attitude, and probably more killer instinct than we are seeing of late. A good education helps.

    We have to get back to that – that is where the clubs and schools come in. The grassroots as they call it must be developed, and we can’t be dependent on academies full of great athletes with not too much upstairs.

    As is often said …”the hardest terrain to negotiate is the six inches between our ears” ..

    Let’s find great young men with integrity, guts and passion and channel it in the right ways.

    So, we need the grassroots and the clubs to be strong, the NRC to be stronger and Super Rugby even more so. We have five provinces that can’t beat New Zealand teams and so forth, yet we can put together a reasonably decent match-day 22.

    Michael Hooper Australia Rugby Union Wallabies 2017

    Michael Hooper (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

    What does that suggest? I’d say it suggests that if you look beyond the top playing group you will find that there are relatively few bolters, challengers or up and comers, because we have spent too many years and dollars indulging these top level guys at the expense of the others.

    We have placed too much trust in athletes and academies and not enough into finding talent that is out there lurking, waiting to be found.

    I was involved with a Canberra Catholic College of the Champagnat variety, and we played an annual fixture against a famous Sydney rugby School, also of the Champagnat variety. The fixture traditionally took place on a Saturday, but one year it could only be played on a Sunday.

    The Sydney School, whose name, Joeys, shall not be mentioned, had to apologise because some of their First XV were on rugby league contracts and were not allowed to play rugby on Sundays.

    They beat us anyway by a reasonable margin, but I do understand we have improved considerably on that result in the last few years. Just an anecdote. But what does that tell us?

    It was an unfair advantage – maybe – a bit over the top. Probably the best spin you could put on it was that it was a lop-sided contest that nobody probably enjoyed and a result that was a bit meaningless.

    Outside the norm, it probably wouldn’t happen if junior clubs were stronger with dedicated pathways. Go figure.

    But I digress.

    Every position in the Wallabies team should have four or five eager, hungry guys seriously putting pressure on the incumbent. No player should ever feel that he has a right to a jersey.

    Now, in saying that I am definitely not suggesting that any Wallabies, past or present do or have done that. I am an immensely proud and a one-eyed Wallabies fan. You can see the pride that every Wallaby carries. It is not the players’ fault. It is the fault of the people who are supposed to be responsible for the development pathways.

    If you are going to have those pathways, they have to be consistent and coherent, and standard right across the country, from the under sevens all the way to the Wallabies. The irony is that this is far more important in the professional era than it ever was in the amateur era.

    A full-on pyramid structure is needed.

    Every state should have an equal vote on the ARU board (or whoever ultimately runs our game). A top down structure with the main players being every state in Australia, regardless of their rugby prowess.

    One State, one vote! Each state delegate should speak with the authority of his or her state board, and a similar structure should be replicated in every union.

    You would have to assume that the weaker states, in a structure like that, don’t have to be the poor relations, rather they should want to be creative and find ways to level up any imbalances.

    You don’t need strong factions like Premier Clubs, or schools rugby getting in the way of the pyramid. Yes, they need to be there but properly integrated and, again, equally represented in each state union.

    Don’t worry, Sydney or Brisbane clubs, your position is safe, but what right thinking Premier Club President wouldn’t want a SA or WA or NT club to able to provide proper opposition? If you could achieve that, you could have a proper National Club Competition and might not need to have an NRC.

    Think about that. What a mouth-watering concept, but you would have to give it time – most Aussie rugby people, unfortunately, want instant results.

    Every state needs to be a part of the rugby family, whether or not some states are stronger – NSW should want to help SA and the ACT should want to help TAS, and Queensland should want to improve the NT and so forth. There should not be vested interests or parochialism, just a shared enthusiasm to grow the game.

    Michael Hoper talks to teammates in a huddle

    Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    As ex-players and enthusiasts we all know that the players respond best when all they have to do is train, turn up to play and enjoy the experience.

    There is plenty of time after footy for the politics and the volunteering etc, so let’s create an atmosphere where we can, on a nationwide basis, create an environment when everybody has a shot at climbing to the point where they are putting pressure on other people for their jersey, at whatever level.

    It’s not a difficult concept – in fact, I think it’s a no-brainer, and something that could easily be implemented by people of goodwill.

    As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.