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Why International Rules does not rule

Ben Pobjie Columnist

By Ben Pobjie, Ben Pobjie is a Roar Expert

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    Australia and Ireland will play an International Rules Test this weekend at Croke Park (AAP Images)

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    I am, as a rule, something of a stickler for sporting patriotism. I do not stand for those who claim to be “Australian sports fans,” yet do not support Australian sports teams.

    I have no truck with the “wouldn’t it be good for the game” brigade, who trundle through various sports whining about how it would be good for the game if their own country was to lose.

    “Wouldn’t it be good for the game if the Kiwis knocked off the Kangaroos?” they’ll say.

    “Wouldn’t it be good for the game if Australia stopped crushing these helpless losers inside three days?,” they used to say back when Australia ruled the cricket world.

    “Wouldn’t it be good for the game if we were a bunch of feeble-minded little traitors?”

    No, I am absolutely steadfast in my conviction that such people are not true Australian fans. They may be fans of something, but it’s not Australian cricket, or rugby league, or hockey, or whatever sport they choose to infect with their weak-kneed “sporting spirit”.

    I have never, ever, ever, ever, EVER, wanted Australia to lose a cricket match.

    I have never wished to see an era of Australian sporting dominance come to an end. I have never put the so-called “good of the game” ahead of cheering for MY team. Anything else I would consider utter madness.

    Australian victory simply makes me hungry for more.

    Watching other nations brought to their knees merely causes me to thirst for the sight of an Australian boot slamming into their faces.

    So, given this dogmatic insistence that Australia is who I barrack for, and always will be, why is it that my reaction to the Australian “International Rules” team’s rather embarrassing defeat to the Irish on the weekend was, to put it bluntly, “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA”?

    It seems a woeful inconsistency and an inexplicable crack in my pro-Australian façade.

    And yet there it is – the “International Rules” team is the only Australian team I always want to lose. How to explain this?

    Well, I think the first reason is that “International Rules” is, let’s be honest, not really a sport.

    Think about a sport. Think about, say, cricket. When Australia plays cricket, where does it get its players?

    Well, it takes its players from the best of those playing in the domestic state competition. And they get theirs from the best of those playing in the various local and district competitions.

    And those players are taken from the players who catch the eye as they rise through the ranks of junior and club cricket, all the way down to the little nippers waving bats bigger than themselves.

    And throughout this grassroots-to-elite process, at every level – and this is a very important point – the players are playing cricket. To cut a long story short, the Australian cricket team chooses its players from among cricketers.

    And likewise, the Wallabies choose their team from among rugby players. The Opals from among basketballers. The Davis Cup team from among tennis players.

    See the pattern?

    And so we come to the “International Rules” team. Do they select their players from the elite in the domestic “International Rules” competitions? No they do not.

    Because there isn’t any. The Australian “International Rules” team is made up of players who have proven their worth in a different sport altogether!

    And they expect us to take it seriously! There’s no grassroots, there’s no junior league, there’s no state league, there’s no grade competition. “International Rules” is a game played for two games per year, by top-class performers in a different game.

    And not even the BEST performers.

    Because the AFL realised a while ago that Aussie Rules and “International Rules” were in fact different games, they don’t even pick the best-performed AFL stars for the IR team – they pick those who they predict will be best at the hybrid game.

    But if we’re to take this seriously, why would we restrict selection to the AFL?

    If we’ve actually decided it’s a “proper” sport that we want to win, and not just a sad attempt to make AFL look international, why don’t we actually try to pick the best team, by looking at all sports?

    Why not pick Mark Schwarzer as goalkeeper? Why not throw a few more Socceroos in for their superior control of the round ball? Why not scour the rugby codes for powerful ball-runners and skilled round-the-corner kickers? Why not check out track and field to gain the most athletic and fleet of foot?

    Why not? Well, we bloody know why not, don’t we?

    But more than that, is the fact that the Australian team always comes off as such a bunch of bullies.

    Big, gym-inflated, full-time professional athletes, super-fit pampered millionaires, going up against a bunch of accountants and shop assistants who play only part-time. Massive, muscly, battle-hardened experts in the art of physical contact, crashing into skinny little Irishmen who back home don’t even have tackling in their game.

    Skinny Irishmen who don’t have marking either, yet are suddenly expected to compete in the air against these pros who not only do have marking, but who are also freaking giants by comparison.

    Next to the size, strength, fitness and violence advantages, the piddling matter of a different-shaped ball pales.

    And the Aussies play like bullies. They bash and crash and thump and bump and brawl to their heart’s content because they know they can, and they know the game doesn’t really matter.

    And yeah, Steve Waugh’s team, say, could act like bullies too. But at least they acted like bullies because they were eleven international cricketers who were clearly better than eleven other international cricketers. If cricket had “International Rules”, it would involve the Australian Twenty20 team playing baseball against Fiji and then leaping around like they won the world cup every time they hit a home run.

    And so what “International Rules” means to me as a passionate Australian sports-lover is a bunch of pumped-up bullies kicking sand in a 95-pound weakling’s face, in a sport with as much credibility as actual sand-kicking.

    And I just can’t be doing with all that.

    I’m so rock-solid behind any Australian sports team. But this ain’t an Australian sports team. This is just silly. Screw “International Rules”, and screw the Australian team. With any luck the Irish will rip ‘em a new one again this weekend.

    Ben Pobjie
    Ben Pobjie

    Ben Pobjie is a writer & comedian writing on The Age, New Matilda and The Roar, whose promising rugby career was tragically cut short the day he stopped playing rugby and had a pizza instead. The most he has ever cried was the day Balmain lost the 1989 grand final. Today he enjoys watching Wallabies, Swans, baggy greens, and Storms.

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    The Crowd Says (56)

    • November 3rd 2011 @ 4:59am
      Brendan Sweeney said | November 3rd 2011 @ 4:59am | ! Report

      “Big, gym-inflated, full-time professional athletes, super-fit pampered millionaires, going up against a bunch of accountants and shop assistants who play only part-time. Massive, muscly, battle-hardened experts in the art of physical contact, crashing into skinny little Irishmen who back home don’t even have tackling in their game.

      Skinny Irishmen who don’t have marking either, yet are suddenly expected to compete in the air against these pros who not only do have marking, but who are also freaking giants by comparison.

      Next to the size, strength, fitness and violence advantages, the piddling matter of a different-shaped ball pales.”

      Then why did they get beaten so badly? You could get as many soccer or rugby players in there as you like, they would stand less of a chance!

      • November 3rd 2011 @ 7:36am
        colin said | November 3rd 2011 @ 7:36am | ! Report

        doubt that, if they put soccer players in our accuracy and ball retention would go up by 5 (brett holman up front would have narrowed the margin to 15 points). put league players in i could see them doing well as well (jarryd hayne anyone????). end of the day it makes no difference.

        • November 3rd 2011 @ 9:58am
          stabpass said | November 3rd 2011 @ 9:58am | ! Report

          I doubt that, soccer players to keep retention would have to pick up the ball and kick it to a teammate so he could mark, and BTW it is a Gaelic ball not a soccer one, when was the last time you saw a soccer player pick it up off the ground and kick it on the full to a teamamate, a tackle would bring soccer ball type retention completely undone.

          • November 3rd 2011 @ 1:39pm
            Lazza said | November 3rd 2011 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

            Soccer players would have no problem with the game because of their technical ability. If you can control a round ball with dazzling skill without the use of your hands then this would just be a lot easier for them.

            The ones who have trouble are your typical big, lumbering, beefed up AFL player. They don’t have the quickness, agility or ball skills required for this type of game. That’s why so many All-Australians are unsuitable.

            • November 3rd 2011 @ 2:32pm
              colin said | November 3rd 2011 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

              yeah i agree, in soccer you get equally as many tackles but you need to duck in and out of them while maintaining agility. i honestly wonder how an a-league team would stack up against the gaelic side. they wont be as physical but youd think that technically they could overcome them

              • November 3rd 2011 @ 5:16pm
                stabpass said | November 3rd 2011 @ 5:16pm | ! Report

                So you actually think that there are many tackles in IR as there is in soccer, are you aware that in IR you can tackle with your hands and tackle them to the ground, have you actually even seen a game !.

                Have you ever seen anyone try and play soccer whilst the tackler is using his hands, he would be easily pushed off the ball.

                If a soccer team was to play a Gaelic team, they would be flogged, for a start soccer players would not be used to putting out their arms to grab the ball, preferring to chest the ball down to their feet, that would mean they would be second to the ball all the time , as IR/Gaelic footballers attempt to catch it, and then run with it or handball/kick it.

              • November 5th 2011 @ 10:13pm
                Bondy said | November 5th 2011 @ 10:13pm | ! Report

                Stabpass, you miss the point if there is a rule that says you dont have to pick the ball up we would just continue to keep playing our football on the ground and if putting the ball in the back of the net is the ultimate well whats new for us .Stabpass the scoreline would embarassingly in our favour we shoot at a net for a living just like them . By creating space we can dodge the physical stuff against the irish .

              • November 5th 2011 @ 10:15pm
                Bondy said | November 5th 2011 @ 10:15pm | ! Report

                Stabpass, i didn’t really mind the game that much i watch that but not your game, in winter i go to league and unoin stick with it mate it’s not that bad .

            • November 3rd 2011 @ 5:19pm
              stabpass said | November 3rd 2011 @ 5:19pm | ! Report

              Soccer players could outplay the IR team on the ground, but the ball is not on the ground like much of a soccer game, the ball is in the air, or if on the ground, it bounces and is far easier to grab with your hands.

              • November 8th 2011 @ 2:38pm
                Al said | November 8th 2011 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

                Ever watch Stoke City or Sam Allardyce’s teams, or any scandanavian or Northern European side? Big, tall lads that would have no problem overpowering the Irish in the air with or without the use of hands.

          • November 3rd 2011 @ 2:57pm
            Bondy said | November 3rd 2011 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

            Whats the only code that K Hunt cant or could never master football/soccer .
            Ask yourself this what would K Hunt prefer 1mill a year A.F.L. or 5 mill playing Global Football .

            • Roar Guru

              November 3rd 2011 @ 7:33pm
              The Cattery said | November 3rd 2011 @ 7:33pm | ! Report

              By his own admission, basketball was his favourite game, but he wasn’t quite tall enough or good enough to make it at pro level, and he could have earned decent coin in the NBA if he was tall enough and good enough.

          • November 5th 2011 @ 10:06pm
            Bondy said | November 5th 2011 @ 10:06pm | ! Report

            Stabpass, but when you look at it as soon as you start picking a ball up ( anyball) both the ball and the player can be arrested of posseion, we are only really allowed to use our feet /legs to really win posseion back .

    • November 3rd 2011 @ 8:06am
      Galaxy Hop said | November 3rd 2011 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      Love it mate, I feel the same way. Only Australian team I ever want to lose.

    • November 3rd 2011 @ 8:10am
      Republican said | November 3rd 2011 @ 8:10am | ! Report

      As far as this ridiculous cringe construct branded International Rules goes, I really can’t fathom why the bankers continue to keep it on life support.

      Brendan’s sentiments express very succinctly, the lack of solidarity for those of both persuasions, so for we Ozzies the game is farcically weighted, in favor of the precious Irish who have only recently decided to return to the fray, so long as any physical contact is monitored extremely closely after already deriving great advantage evidenced since the games inception i.e. the rooond ball, posts and so on.

      Brendan has already given us his version of a perceived Australian advantage, not so subtly hinting that my Irish brethren supply us with all the cerebral attributes while we lesser Aussies, many of Irish heritage, make up the brawn.

      While our codes and cultures hold very close hereditary lines, surely the time has come to respectfully bury this cringe induced concept and get on with the business of enjoying our respective indigenous codes for what they are.

    • Roar Guru

      November 3rd 2011 @ 10:07am
      The Cattery said | November 3rd 2011 @ 10:07am | ! Report

      One point we can all agree on is that international sport can be quite jingoistic.

      Thank goodness that in Australian we have an overwhelming preference for club football, and long may it continue.

      • November 3rd 2011 @ 3:03pm
        Kasey said | November 3rd 2011 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

        Speak for yourself mate. In the dark days of the NSL, wghen there wasn’t a club team for me and many others tocall our own, the Socceroos were ‘our team’ That is one reason the pain of not making the WC Finals hurt so much for so long:( Country and club go hand in hand. I want both to do well, but I must admit I get a kick out of hearing that the amateur Irish players turned one over on the pro AFL-ers:) must be the underdog spirit I love:)

    • November 3rd 2011 @ 10:22am
      stabpass said | November 3rd 2011 @ 10:22am | ! Report

      Ben Pobjie said “I have never, ever, ever, ever, EVER, wanted Australia to lose a cricket match.”

      Well i have, either you are not old enough, or you are never going to be a sporting administrator !.

      Ben, you have to accept IR, is what it is, it is probably never going to be a truly international sport, but it is a great game to watch, fast, open, flowing, that cannot be denied and i have no doubt it would be a great game to play.

      Ireland play Hurling, Scotland play shinty, and these two countries play a series of tests, with rules somehwere in the middle, but i dont see them getting hockey players, or baseballers involved, or getting upset about it, and why should they.

      You are really reading all this incorrectly if you think the gaelic ball does not make any difference, it makes all the difference, if we played with our indigenous ball, we would absolutely flog the Irish, the bounce the shape, the kicking make all the difference, a round ball is far far easier to read than a oval one.

      Rugby players would be lost in the 360% of this game, soccer players would have trouble picking the ball up of the ground and possibly marking it, soccer goalkeepers in this game may be OK, but in IR they are used as much more attacking players, and link up much further down the ground.

      And BTW, i did not see our rugby team naming RL players in the recent rugby WC, because they were better, and we all know that there are plenty of RL players who probably were.

      • November 3rd 2011 @ 1:36pm
        Galaxy Hop said | November 3rd 2011 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

        I guess that explains the Canadian ex-rugby player who plays for the Swans does it? Or Hunt or Folau? Or Darren Lockyer being a talent in AFL as a kid and teenager?

    • November 3rd 2011 @ 10:27am
      stabpass said | November 3rd 2011 @ 10:27am | ! Report


      Ben, did you really laugh this much ?, sounds a bit fake to me !.

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