The year was 1974, the Wallabies embarrassingly had lost to rugby minnow Tonga and quite simply the Australian Rugby Union was just about flat broke. The game in Australia was in peril.
Through an Australian Government grant, the benevolence of the New Zealand Rugby Union, Home Nations and some Australian benefactors the Wallabies managed to survive.
It took a cohesive effort from administration, coaches and players alike to re-energise Australian rugby and the platform for subsequent Wallaby triumph was built on respect, not money.
Success later came in the form a series defeat of the Welsh; victory at Eden Park and later the Bledisloe, but money did not make the tackles, score the tries nor carry the Bledisloe around the SCG – respected Wallabies did.
Forty years later the Australian Rugby Union is not broke, but as it was recently alluded to in The Australian by Wayne Smith, the finances of the Australian Rugby Union are hardly blooming despite a recent windfall thanks to the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour.
It is understood that operating revenues are forecast to decline over the next two financial years coupled with the Melbourne Rebels on financial life support and the Wallabies major sponsor Qantas being downgraded to ‘junk’ status.
The bean counters at HQ will be sweating over their abacus’ pondering rugby’s financial viability in Australia.
2014 looms as arguably one of the most exciting yet crucial years in the very history of the Australian Rugby Union.
The Wallabies are emerging from the shadows, the Super Rugby franchises are looking competitive and the introduction of the National Rugby Championship will deliver the long missing development tier from club to country.
Yet rugby remains precariously balanced not only financially but in the hearts and minds of the Australian sports consumer.
Quite simply Bill Pulver and his team can ill afford mediocrity, let alone any failure in their business activities in 2014. If they do the sport of rugby may take years to recover in this country.
Like their forefathers of the 1970s, today’s ARU and Wallabies must rise up and win the respect back of the Australian sports fan if the dollars are to roll back into the coffers.
Rugby can no longer promise, it must deliver a product that is honest, transparent and appealing not only to the mums and dads, but also the traditional corporate sponsor who wants their brand alongside that of Australian rugby.
The time is right if the plan can be executed.
Despite the recent controversy surrounding Ben Mowen electing to seek employment in France, the ‘Dublin Six’ and the parting of ways with James O’Connor – rugby has largely kept its nose clean recently.
This has been a period where other codes in the Australian footy market have endured embarrassing scandals including links to organised crime, match fixing, substance abuse and players incarcerated for street violence.
If rugby is honest with itself and delivers an honest entertaining product the revenue the game is in much need of will flow while the other codes wallow in the mire of scandal. Albeit with their cashed up TV deals, scandal is scandal.
The key components to the revival must be respect and results. 2014 can’t be seen as purely a ‘development year’ for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
That attitude would be disrespectful to the Australian rugby fan.
Australian rugby needs the scalp of the All Blacks, Springboks or both in 2014.
Furthermore results must also be tangibly recognisable in those who play the game. It is vitally important that rugby remains scandal free in 2014, but also sells a good story along the way.
The Australian cricket team are now the darlings again of the Australian sporting market for their historic defeat of the English in the recent Ashes series.
They were a fine example of passion, maximising opportunity and redemption this summer.
The Australian public was starving for their success and that hunger was nourished on a staple diet of respect.
The Australian cricket team did not take their team mates, the opportunity or their fans for granted and delivered a stunning result.
Does Australian rugby have its own Mitchell Johnson, Brad Haddin or Chris Rogers waiting for their chance to right a wrong, or to create history in 2014?
Will 2014 be the year Kurtley Beale finally defeats his demons, under the guidance of Michael Cheika and Ewen McKenzie?
Will we see Quade Cooper rise to the ranks of Wallaby captain and guide the Wallabies to an un-likely Rugby Championship?
Can David Pocock return displaying his pre-injury form? How much better can Israel Folau get?
Or will we find another journeyman story like that of Scott Fardy who emerged from relative obscurity to become one of Australia’s premier loose forwards.
Despite the current financial frailties, rugby in Australia can flourish if the game is played in the manner the public enjoy and the players continue respecting the jumper, all those who have worn it before and those who never could.
The Wallabies can be the feel good story of 2014 despite the dollar, and if they play the respect game, the redemption and revenue will follow if they do!