Are we headed in a direction where as a major rugby nation, we are prepared to still select players who have made such a decision, to again be selected for our country upon their return ahead of those players who decide to stay?
I am not against rugby players making money but I am 100 per cent against money becoming their only reason for playing.
We need to be very careful about what guidelines are put in place in relation to Australian selection. If national players want to head overseas to maximise their earning capacity, then there is a strong argument that this should be in the knowledge that their international career is over.
For me, playing for your country is not about money. It is about who and what you represent. It is an honour and a privilege and something that you take with you to your grave.
Its intrinsic value is priceless.
The Australian grassroots invests at lot of time and the Super Rugby franchises and the ARU a lot of money in developing our national rugby players. We need to ensure that we get the maximum value from this investment, and if the players know that they are giving up something very valuable by going overseas, then this may encourage them to think long and hard before doing so.
Now I can hear the argument already – what if we need one or more of them to win? Aren’t we cutting off our nose to spite our face?
This leads me to what I believe may be one of the big problems with Australian rugby.
For some reason we think we must have the star player or victory isn’t possible, even though history shows that a champion team will beat a team of champions.
How do we produce such teams?
Firstly, we need to stop focusing on the individual star and concentrate on the collective.
In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 22, 2014, former All Black and Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said there are three major differences that separate New Zealand and Australian rugby.
1. A ‘celebrity’ culture which inflates egos of some Wallabies – often causing wide-spread disruption to the team environment – making it difficult to keep them grounded.
2. Superior New Zealand development pathway.
3. The All Blacks’ leadership group.
Today I am just going to focus on the first issue.
Some years ago when I was coaching a struggling Brisbane Premier Grade Rugby Team, and Robbie was the coach of the extraordinary Crusaders, I rang him up and asked him if my backs coach and I could come to Christchurch for a few days and sit in the stands unannounced and watch the Crusaders training sessions.
Being the gentleman he is, Robbie obliged and shortly thereafter we flew to Christchurch and quietly and unobtrusively watched their sessions all of which were closed to the public.
Robbie took time to show us how the Crusaders operated and was very proud of the humble facilities in which they ran their operations. He also took pride in the fact that his Crusaders players put the collective above the individual – and everyone knew it, and behaved accordingly on and off the field.
On the field his training sessions were well planned and very efficient – no time was wasted.
But above all – what I witnessed was a combination of humility and fierce determination permeating the entire Crusaders outfit.
No one was going to get in their way – but they went about their business quietly and without fanfare or personal aggrandisement. I watched as Dan Carter quietly practiced his goal kicking with a few youngsters racing around to recover and return the balls he kicked. I was very surprised when each and every Canterbury player that left the field and walked in front of the grandstand would look up and say hello, not knowing who we were and, God forbid, that we were from across the ditch. I then watched as senior All Black players swept their own dressing sheds.
When I returned to Australia, a friend of mine asked me what I had learned during my week away in Crusader territory.
The answer was simple – humility.
In the article Deans went on to quote the words of the great Sir Brian Lahore “better people make better All Blacks”.
How true that is – irrespective of country.
I believe we need to change the culture of the Wallabies to focus on the collective.
To do this we need to understand what humility really means and how to apply it in a truly professional environment. If we can teach our players its true value, we will develop better and more leaders within the collective. The more leaders we have the more successful we will be.
So for what it worth, my advice on humility to the players is this:
1. Stop believing your own press
While it’s human nature to want to read about yourself in the newspaper or see yourself on TV when you are young, it is important that players remember that rugby is a team sport and that all team members contribute to success.
2. Realise you don’t know everything
There is nothing worse than the arrogant and ignorant footballer who thinks he knows everything and the coach knows nothing. If you do not agree with the coach, be brave enough to discuss the matter with him in private, but ensure you have cogent reasoning behind your point of view and be prepared to truly listen.
3. Take a poll of yourself from your peers
Self-perception invariably deviates from the perception of those around you. So, in the interests of becoming a better person, subject yourself to a 360 degree anonymous review.
This will help you to receive feedback and to turn criticism into a plan for growth and development.
4. Develop a spirit of service within the entire squad
We need to get away from the idea that players should be on a pedestal. This sends all the wrong messages to our youth no matter how much innate talent they may have. If it is good enough for New Zealand’s Ritchie McCaw and Dan Carter to sweep the dressing sheds after training for a Test match, it sure as hell is good enough for us.
After all, New Zealand’s 75 per cent plus win-rate over the last 100 years is no accident and is an achievement unmatched by any other elite team, in any code in the world – let’s learn from it.
5. Work harder – ‘Champions Do Extra’
Follow this simple quote from Brad Thorn, arguably one of the greatest rugby athletes to have graced the planet.
“Games are won and lost on the training paddock. Whoever has worked the hardest usually wins.”
6. Understand that there is a difference between ‘professionalism’ and ‘commercialism’
Just because you are getting paid does not mean you are professional. It’s as simple as that.
7. You do not own the jersey – you are simply its custodian – increase its value, don’t diminish it
As I have said before, you have an obligation to those who have gone before you and those who will come after you, and to the Australian rugby public and most of all – to those grassroots amateur rugby clubs from which you came.
I also have some advice for the Australian selectors and for the Australian Rugby Union. Follow these steps, and the Wallabies culture will be improved immediately.
1. Focus on players that would die for the privilege of donning the green and gold jersey
If a player has the talent, but is more interested in money or fame than becoming a Wallaby, tell them where to go.
2. Have a strict no dickhead policy- select players on character as well as talent
No matter how much talent a player has – if he is a dickhead, get rid of him.
3. Let players go that are primarily focused on their bank accounts – whoever they are
Do not succumb to the temptation of letting them go, and when they return, selecting them above those players that have stayed and worked their butts off – be loyal to those that stay and you will be repaid ten times over.
5. Educate the players, player managers, the media and the public
What are the Wallabies about? Everyone should know that the Wallabies are about two things – better men and better rugby players.
6. Be ruthless in implementing this culture – for the benefit of the collective and Australian rugby as a whole
It is time to breed a new and tougher kind of warrior – one with a value system with humility at his core, passionately committed 100 per cent to the Wallabies and prepared to fight for success to his last breath.