From time to time someone responds to a moan with “life is tough – then you die.” Death is inevitable, but a tough life? Actually not – particularly for professional rugby players in Australia.
While growing up in Papua New Guinea, and on school holidays in the Queensland bush, I met Aussies who defined the concept of hard – both physically and mentally.
They struggled against very tough odds every day of their lives working on cattle stations, farms, construction projects in the middle of nowhere, and the cane fields of North Queensland.
These people knew what it was like to hang on to something when it was cutting through your fingers, or to keep lifting when your muscles were burning up, because quitting meant losing an arm or leg or worse under the weight of something collapsing or recoiling, or being bowled over by a much larger animal.
This happened on a regular basis. When it didn’t kill them they were at it the next day. They were hard from work and life; the kind of people who might be beaten down but who never quit.
We used to have people like that playing rugby – not just in Australia, everywhere.
When I was much younger I imagined that the Welsh were formidable in the scrum because their forwards were born bent over slogging away at a coal face and their backs were quick and clever from escaping from collapsing mine shafts. I digress.
What do we have today? Well, players are big and strong in a limited sort of way – the product of hanging out in gyms pushing weights that rarely do anything unexpected – let alone bite back if they are neglected.
After a couple hours of ‘work’ – maybe even a test match – they hit the pub or the beach, or ‘tweet’ their legions of fans. The most stressful thing an average day brings is deciding what to do with all that time off.
What we have are a bunch of soft-bodied and soft-minded poseurs. Across the board they have not got a clue what real adversity looks like, let alone what it means to stand up to it both physically and mentally – to earn the right to be referred to as ‘hard.’
The irony of the age of professionalism is that these over-paid sooks aren’t as well prepared to play as the old blokes who had real day jobs and played for pride in the jersey.
Australia has a legacy of hard men playing rugby. We haven’t had many recently. There are none (none!) in the current lot, and a number of pretty boys who will never be.
Before you decide who to take on the spring tour, coach Deans, perhaps you should ask yourself what kind of a man you are getting – not just what his rugby looks like today.
There is a model for this, coach – Brad Thorn.
If you look carefully enough, and do some serious culling of your current herd of fat cattle, perhaps we can have some of what he brings to the All Black’s game in the Wallabies next year? Please.