After catching up with the Brett Papworth-Bill Pulver saga over the last few days I began to reflect on why I simply don’t follow rugby anymore.
I used to be an avid follower and I played the game at school, but now – nada, nothing, diddly-squat.
Up until about 2009 or 2010 I watched the Super tournaments and Saturday rugby – either at Rat Park or on the ABC. I’d stay up until the wee hours to watch the Wallabies take on foes, regardless of work the next day.
Around that time, I just started losing interest, I wouldn’t bother staying up to watch. “The replay will do”, I would say, even if I already knew the result.
It wasn’t a particular moment, or event I just lost interest in watching the game. I’d still follow the results, and still paid my Waratahs memberships, but I just stopped enjoying watching the game. As time went on, I found I was starting to actually get worked up and angry while watching.
Regardless of the result, at the end of the game I found myself leaving the ground or switching off the broadcast and I was cranky. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I felt this way. I freely admit that this was during the Waratah and Wallaby “get possession and immediately kick it away” period – this may have had something to do with starting the rot.
After reading Papworth’s spray, Peter FitzSimons’ fence-sitting musing and Pulver’s non-response it started to dawn on me why I now dislike the game I grew up following.
It has been a slow evolution, but it is now obvious. When the game became professional, it had to “sell its soul” to the television marketing executives. Since that time the game has slowly been eroded away. A game that was a hard, up-front contest for the ball has been sanitised and mangled to suit the TV overlords.
While discussing Papworth’s spray with a work colleague, the conversation drifted to just how pedantic, mechanical and (for the most part) predicable the game had become.
So there it was. The answer.
The administrators of the game have strangled the life out of it. Pedantic law interpretations and watering down the game as a whole for the mum’s and kiddies watching on TV.
For example, rucks and mauls used to be pretty much self policing. If you lay over the ball, you would soon find yourself being shot unceremoniously out the back, with some stud marks for your trouble. Hands in the ruck? No worries, two milliseconds later your hand would be out of the way and you will probably drop the next few passes.
Rucks and mauls were dark scary places that tended to look after themselves. The referee had better things to do anyway.
Now look at the current ruck and maul situation. Take the sixteen biggest blokes on the park. Make them run into each other and throw a footy in there somewhere. Next get the referee, who most likely played rugby in the backs, arm him or her with a whistle and a briefcase full of laws, interpretations, latest hot issues and limited vision into the now combined packs.
The only recourse the referee has is to blow the whistle at any opportunity, even without a clear idea of what was actually happening.
The game stops. The players are confused, the spectators even more so. The commentators either have a rant while ignoring the slo-mo, zoomed-in replay or head off on a pre-scripted sponsor plug.
Rucks and mauls are but one example of the decline in the game.
The powers that be took the game and redefined it to suit the non-rugby world. It is now a cookie-cutter, bland and predictable circus event, full of show ponies and gym junkies.
That is why I no longer follow or spend my hard-earned on the game.
Now I know the usual suspects at The Roar will respond with “you’re not a real supporter” or “good-riddance we don’t need your type”.
And you will be 100 per cent right. You don’t need me or “my type”. However, given the parlous financial and administrative state of rugby in this country, the game needs people, so how about it ARU and IRB? How about you give us back our game?