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Roar Exclusive: The Roar approached the Wallabies’ most successful coach, Rod Macqueen AM, for his thoughts on how rugby can run with the ball in Australia again. His answer is the ‘Einstein Project’.
One of my favourite Einstein quotes is when he was conducting a physics class examination and one of his students pointed out the questions were the same as last year. Einstein replied: “Yes, but this year the answers are different”.
That applies so much to sport and business, and particularly to rugby as it is today. So, here are my thoughts about some of this year’s answers…
Rugby union has changed significantly since the beginning of professionalism and is continuing to evolve. If we look at the key performance indicators of some of the top New Zealand, teams there has been a dynamic change, predominantly over the last ten years.
Australian rugby has lost a great deal of its intellectual property edge; countries around the world have taken a lot of the innovations the Wallabies introduced and are now well ahead with their own initiatives.
New Zealand, especially, has undertaken an inspired business plan to put systems in place to take their rugby into the future. They continue to work together to develop their skill level and physicality which keeps them at the very top.
This has been achieved by further deepening a united pride in the New Zealand rugby community and the way they play the game.
Australian rugby is now at the stage where it must undertake a plan that is not a short fix, but rather a plan based on creativity, data and evidence-based innovation. We need to develop and build an understanding of how the game will be played in the next five years.
The appointment of Rod Kafer is a great initiative by the ARU. Rod has always had a clear and insightful understanding and appreciation of the game. Looking to the future, we need to develop and build a brand of rugby that is unique to Australia and gives us many on-field options.
Once we have this blueprint, we will need to select the personnel and skill sets to match.
Armed with a vision and a plan, we need to embark on a nationwide program and include the grassroots on the journey. The people in the clubs are the hearts and minds of our game. To be successful, we must have a unified sharing approach. We should take the game to the nation; educate the grassroots juniors, the age representative levels and senior ranks.
An important element of this proposed new connection would be developing a respectful Australian culture with enjoyment and pride being a key factor.
Supporting this would be an obligation from contracted players to spend time with allocated club sides. This would achieve two things – increasing the knowledge and skills of the club sides and ensuring that the professional players continue to have a strong bond with the grassroots.
We also need to be mindful, proactive and clear with our goal setting.
For example, it was critical for us to win the Tests against England last year. As a lead-up to that series, England had just competed in the Six Nations.
Conversely, Australia did not have a lead-up game at all. We should never undertake a critically important task like that without having at least two warm-up games. In today’s unforgiving professional game, you simply cannot give another team that sort of advantage.
We also need to be aware of the highly competitive sports marketing environment in which we now operate. The recently-announced decision to appoint Alan Jones as coach of the Barbarians team (another good initiative), not only provides the Wallabies with an important warm-up game, but opens up new options and sparks great interest.
Boys and girls are our future and it’s going to be extremely important that we address the participation issue as soon as possible. All other sports are well advanced in meeting the challenge.
For example, some years ago Tennis Australia came up with a simple solution when looking at new ways to introduce their game to young kids. Tennis developed the now highly-recognised success story, Hot Shots, a simple concept that used a smaller court, along with three different coloured and pressure balls, as well as modified racquets.
The program is designed to help every child, no matter their age or ability, to jump in and start playing tennis, competing and having fun, while at the same time developing their skills and co-ordination.
We have a tremendous opportunity to take a new approach with our rugby juniors by using digital media to develop a series of simple, innovative and exciting games to make it fun for the kids and easier for the coaches; at the same time, they will develop the specific skills that our national plan has set for the Australian game in the future.
Apps can be developed to support the ongoing education and programs which can go direct to the junior clubs and coaches.
The implementation of these thoughts will not be easy because people perceive change as risk, however the greatest risk is not changing our thinking. As Einstein said, “This year the answers are different”.