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FAREWELL ROAR: Bickering a symptom of troubled times

Bill Pulver needs to fix Australian rugby. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Expert
3rd December, 2014
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9479 Reads

And so ends 2014 from a rugby point of view in Australia, and what a tumultuous year it was!

My first experience of rugby union was in 1979 when the Wallabies won the Bledisloe Cup for the first time in 28 years.

The Wallabies were the only team I watched in those days – I grew up in Sydney and didn’t watch or attend any interstate matches. In fact, the first time I attended or watched a Queensland versus New South Wales match was in 2006.

My love of the game was developed in a golden age for the Wallabies when we rose to the top of the world with a grand slam, two World Cup wins – nearly a third apart from those bloody English.

The 1984 Grand Slam team was something else to watch. The 1991 team won our first World Cup and their quarter final against Ireland and semi-final against New Zealand are matches I remember fondly.

But it was the team that Rod Macqueen built to win every trophy on offer to the Wallabies between 1998 and 2001 that will likely be the one I’ll always remember as my favourite – not just because they won, but because of the way they played the game.

They were skilful, disciplined and humble. They had some great players and they were coached brilliantly. Since the retirement of the key players and coach from that team, the Wallabies have frustrated and disappointed me.

Of course there was that brief shining moment in 2003 to offer hope when they beat the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final and then pushed England all the way in the final.

In 2006 as I prepared to start coaching in senior age groups for the first time I started taking more notice of different teams in rugby as a way to increase my knowledge as a coach. I started watching footage of matches from all around the world and then found footage of matches from the previous thirty years when I’d only really watched the Wallabies play – the experience was a great education in rugby.

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In 2009 I started analysing and writing about rugby publicly as another way to improve as a coach. My feeling was that if I could explain the game in an article or video, then I would get better at explaining it to players.

Rather than just improving my communication skills about the game, through the process of detailed analysis I also learnt more about the game myself.

It’s amazing how, when you really break down what happened in a match, it becomes clear that often what you thought happened didn’t happen at all. I’ve tried to share that experience through my articles and videos over the last five years.

My articles reflect my opinions but I’ve never been foolish enough to think that my opinion is always right. I also believe that I give other people’s opinions fair consideration before I agree or disagree with them.

In my time analysing and writing about rugby, I’ve been critical of many things – teams, coaches and players. I’ve fallen foul of many people, including the ARU and some Wallaby coaches, because I say what I think, even when I know it might not be popular.

When I see something positive I enjoy highlighting it. It’s much more enjoyable to write a positive article but I’ve never written something positive unless it was justified.

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about writing for The Roar, and for Green and Gold Rugby before that, is the interaction with other rugby lovers. It’s why I respond to so many comments on my articles – I’ve always been interested in discussing and debating the issues.

Of course when you put your views out there, you’re going to get plenty of people who want to deride those views as being ridiculous, wrong and even part of an agenda. Fortunately I’ve been lucky enough that far more people seem to have found my views interesting and even enlightening.

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I certainly don’t worry about the comments of the keyboard warriors who come up with their negative comments while hiding behind pseudonyms. They don’t have the guts to make their comments in their own name and I doubt they’d have the guts to make their comments face to face.

Unfortunately, the comments of such people more often than not hijack a great rugby discussion and as a result over the last few years there has been a significant decline in the standard of discussion and debate regarding rugby.

There has always been a long and passionate interstate rivalry between Queensland and New South Wales but what used to be banter has become something more since 2011 when the Reds won the Super Rugby title.

Many Reds supporters, flushed with some success, became a little cocky.

The debate about Robbie Deans as coach of the Wallabies also turned ugly in 2012. When he was sacked in 2013 and replaced with the former Reds coach, Ewen McKenzie, there were a surprising number of people who saw this as a Queensland takeover of the Wallabies.

With the Waratahs winning the Super Rugby title this year, the bickering and blame game has gone to another level.

Australian rugby is more divided than ever.

I see the same cockiness now from some Waratahs supporters as I did from some Reds supporters in 2011. And I see the same sort of claim from some people that it’s a New South Wales takeover of the Wallabies.

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It’s become almost impossible to have a discussion about rugby or the Wallabies without the equivalent of an all in brawl starting on the Internet, largely split along state lines – I find that very disappointing and boring.

Having to wade through all the inflammatory comments based on interstate rivalries has diminished the enjoyment I used to get from participating in discussions.

I’d love to see constructive debates where other people’s opinions are respected, where other people with differing opinions aren’t attacked and it doesn’t matter in which state you play your rugby or which team you support, everyone is treated first and foremost as a fellow member of the Australian rugby community.

However, I fear that that isn’t going to happen and that the situation is going to continue to deteriorate.

I’ve been lucky enough to get paid to write about the game I love but it’s never been about the money for me – it’s always been about the enjoyment.

Unfortunately when you stop enjoying something, there’s no point in continuing to do it. So I’ve told the guys at The Roar that this is my last article on Australian rugby, and it is.

I’m going to put more of my time into coaching rugby, something I really do enjoy.

Ewen McKenzie said in his resignation announcement that he’d write a book and reveal the reasons behind his decision. I’m never going to write a book, so thanks for indulging me while I set out the reasons why I’m also exiting stage left.

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Thanks to all of you for reading my thoughts on rugby over the last five years and I want to thank the excellent team at The Roar for all their help and for giving me an opportunity to put my views out there.