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Australian rugby: Down but not out

Boof Head Roar Rookie

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    This is the third article for The Roar I’ve written in two years, on my third account, because I forgot the username and password for the other two.

    I’m no author or writer and to be honest finishing this one was pushing me.

    My first article lamented the Waratahs’ pathetic bowing out of the 2015 Super Rugby finals after reaching such great heights the year before.

    The second one was a complete and utter piss take, where I named a Wallabies team comprising a forward pack of flankers, and a backline of Fijians. Boy, replying to some of the comments was funny.

    Both articles were inspired by the trials and tribulations of Australian rugby, which has yielded a lot more pain than pleasure in recent times.

    This article will be no different. I am disappointed at the standard of our Super Rugby teams. I am baffled by the axing of the Western Force over the Melbourne Rebels. And make no mistake I am well and truly dead inside at the thought of the Wallabies of 2016, 2017 and likely for the next few years.

    Despite these fairly commonplace opinions one that stands out at as controversial is this – I believe Michael Cheika is a great rugby coach and is definitely the right man for the Wallabies gig.

    This man has proved his affinity, on the domestic stage, not once but twice. He has also shown to have the potential for greatness with the Wallabies after taking them to the World Cup Final in 2015.

    However, these facts are considerably outdated as we now contemplate the 54-34 flogging at the hands of the All Blacks, as you must be thinking.

    Why are his coaching selections so consistently and blatantly idiotic to the entirety of the supporters base? Why is Michael Hooper captain? Why is Nathan Grey still the defensive coach? Why is Cheika not doing this or that?

    I think that it is important that we, as supporters, respect the huge, huge difference in perspective between our external viewpoint and the opinion of the boys in camp Walla, slogging it out, day by day with each other for a living.

    Michael Cheika thinking

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    If you do a little bit of digging and have a think you’ll actually find that it’s no surprise Hooper has been named as captain. He hasn’t built up his reputation for never giving up and trying hard out of nowhere.

    It is clear that he is a highly respected and admired member of the squad and is someone who his teammates respect. The position of captain his highly personal and means a lot more to the team than to us, sitting behind our laptops and spitting out hate.

    We may never understand the real reason why, but we must all acknowledge that Hooper is a talented player.

    The way I like to think about it is, picture Hooper as a Kiwi. Learning the ropes at a Super Rugby club over there, his stand out ability would have been noticed, guided and nurtured by their well structured system as, from when Hooper first appeared around 2012. I believe he would have been an All Black by now, and certainly without as many caps, he would have been a much greater player for the experience.

    Ditto Skelton. When he came onto the scene he was a monster. Remember the 2014 Tests against France? It may have taken him much longer to get there in the end, but the man mountain would have been treasured by New Zealand, not insulted and criticised the moment he had a drop in form.

    New Zealand recognises the cyclical nature of players and when and when they need a tune up to get them back in the fast lane. Case in point, Julian Savea.

    Too often Australian rugby will lose the gems they unearth and it seems utterly wasteful. Take Jesse Mogg, a player who definitely debuted for Australia too early because of the shallow pool of talent during that 2012-2013 period.

    Now let’s consider the Australian back three from Bledisloe I 2017. Henry Speight, Curtis Rona and Israel Folau.

    Three ball running wingers, with one slotting in at fullback. If only there was a seasoned, mature outside back with strong kicking ability, to relieve the pressure on Foley whose exit kicking is probably one of the worst in the top 10 or 15 countries in rugby.

    I believe that Cheika is strongly influenced to make selections against his will. The looming threat to Australian rugby are its rival codes, namely NRL. Schoolboys being snatched up by the extremely well marketed, well developed and well funded system that is rugby league in Australia. How does this 20-year-old kid, as talented as he may be, jump the queue and end up in a Wallabies squad with seasoned players such as James Hanson lying in wait?

    Rugby needs players. Players become good when playing throughout their childhood. When it is seen that there is the potential for U20s to jump into the Wallabies, and for teenagers to play Super Rugby, this is meant to create inspiration and value in the rugby union pathway.

    Israel Folau Australia Rugby Union Championship Bledisloe Cup Wallabies 2017

    (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    This stems from the lack of a strong domestic competition. As a promising youngster having reached the fork in the road, the strength and reputation of the NRL pathway is far more attractive than the messy oblivion between club and state rugby.

    As seen in the amazing numbers for the Shute Shield this year, there is an adequate desire and market, there just needs to be something well structured, funded instilled with long term intentions to recapture the jaded fans.

    The core supporters in Sydney and Brisbane will always remain, however the longer the ARU wait, the more 50–50s will fall away. Before we know it we’ll be back to square one.

    The axing of the Western Force, for me, a born-and-bred New South Welshman, hurts more than the Wallabies’ demise. Look at these guys. Essentially the scraps of the other teams, belted season after season, having bred all of their Wallabies save Polotau Nau.

    The promising debut season at the helm of the Force by Dave Wessels has been highly admired and is still undervalued. The ability to turn a low profile group into one that is succinct, clear in mindset and of relative success in Australia should be looked on with greater respect.

    The success stories in recent years have spurned from the same situation. The Lions began their transformation in 2014 under Ackerman with a similarly non flashy, scrap heap style squad, and built themselves into a successful team, even though they didn’t win outright. It was similar with the Highlanders who went from a very poor 2013 to the Championship in 2015.

    And yet they were chopped due to financial reasons. This is not long-term thinking. This has been the same fundamental mistake made by Australian rugby for decades. A strong domestic competition should have been established long ago, and would now be keeping the sinking ship afloat.

    By making his controversial selections, Cheika is politically and subconsciously contributing to the short-term and medium-term success of the sport as pressured by the ARU. He is a smart coach and has crumbled under the surrounding pressure imploding the game in the country, understandably or not.

    Had he been in another country, for example New Zealand, he would not have had to deal with all of this bull***t.

    Fundamentally the basic skills of the Wallabies are lacking and this is the primary reason for their on-field inconsistency and at times disaster. But these problems stem from a far deeper source and we must as supporters acknowledge this, instead of resorting to a personal attack of the players and coach.

    Bledisloe I was the most appalling display by the Wallabies I have seen. Ever.

    Australian rugby is down but not out. The contributions of people such as Twiggy Forrest are extremely valuable and bear resemblances to the reformative period of the 90s. Rugby will always be around. It’s just a matter of time until someone with more brains than boof has the bravery to make bold changes to the structure of the game within the country for its long-term success.

    Am I an optimist or pessimist?

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    The Crowd Says (71)

    • Roar Guru

      August 21st 2017 @ 11:38am
      Machooka said | August 21st 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

      Good read Boof Head… many thanks.

      The answer to your question is an ‘optimist’… clearly. Thankfully. And no doubt with good reason.

      I, also, are an optimist. Wannabe. Always will be. What’s the point of not being!?!

      Again, thanks for the read as there’s some really good stuff contained within 🙂

      • Roar Rookie

        August 21st 2017 @ 8:23pm
        Phantom said | August 21st 2017 @ 8:23pm | ! Report

        IMHO hooper would be unlikely to have achieved ab status. If Pocock was available I would select him in his best position every time. No exceptions. If hooper played for any other Australian team he would not be a wallaby this year based on his form.

        • August 21st 2017 @ 8:29pm
          Fionn said | August 21st 2017 @ 8:29pm | ! Report

          On 2017 I’d have Chris Alcock starting at 7, and Hardwick probably second.

          Hooper hasn’t been as good as he usually is, and even when he isn’t as good as Pocock imo.

    • August 21st 2017 @ 11:46am
      Hang on a minute said | August 21st 2017 @ 11:46am | ! Report

      Maybe if NRL adopted World Rugby laws the Wallabies and rugby in Oz has a future.

      We might be better fielding the Kangaroos as our national team than the Wallabies.

      Union will survive, just like rugby survived in the USA and Canada when the gridiron codes went in different directions.

      It’ll be played by a hardcore group and thats it sadly as I reckon out of the rugby codes it is clearly the better game. It is quite similar to Aussie footy in the free flowing nature unlike league, which is like a gridiron style game being stop start in nature.

    • August 21st 2017 @ 12:03pm
      Cassia said | August 21st 2017 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

      If you watched or attended either of the Shute Shield Finals on the weekend you could not help but have a little optimism for the future.
      Passionate crowds enjoying the way rugby should be played.
      Very entertaining.

      • Roar Guru

        August 21st 2017 @ 2:08pm
        Adam said | August 21st 2017 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

        Watched both games on the box. My father-in-law who knows next to nothing about union was very impressed with the crowd during the game on Saturday. Hopefully, the ARU understands that they need a complete reset and I think the NRC model is what we need over the Super Rugby model.

      • Roar Guru

        August 21st 2017 @ 11:31pm
        Timbo (L) said | August 21st 2017 @ 11:31pm | ! Report

        Went to the Pindan Finals last weekend. Promosing talent there too.
        I am not trying to say east or west is better, but the more of these competitions there are the better the crop for the future.

    • August 21st 2017 @ 12:14pm
      Sydneysider said | August 21st 2017 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

      Maybe this is what is required:

      Hopefully bankrupt the ARU and then rugby can start again from scratch in Australia.

      • August 21st 2017 @ 12:33pm
        Hang on a minute said | August 21st 2017 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

        Problem is, where the hell were all these people the last half dozen years? Or were the protesters “it”?

        They should start this rebel competition. Invite the biggest and best Shute and Brisbane clubs and see how they go. Problem is, I don’t know if Aussie rugby clubs want to be professional.

        • August 21st 2017 @ 1:48pm
          Davo said | August 21st 2017 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

          And where was Twiggy’s money? Same place as now. On paper, highly dependent on the fluctuating price of iron ore. Until he hands over real cash, no-one should get too excited about the bluster of a mining speculator.

          • August 21st 2017 @ 2:09pm
            sittingbison said | August 21st 2017 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

            For the last time Forrest is not a “speculator”, and has contributed greatly to the Force since inception

            • August 21st 2017 @ 2:31pm
              Davo said | August 21st 2017 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

              Yeah, and Firepower made cars go faster.

              I am personally disappointed that Force got chopped instead of the Rebels. But you folks in WA really need to stop believing everything you’re told by WA Inc.

              • August 21st 2017 @ 5:33pm
                Perthstayer said | August 21st 2017 @ 5:33pm | ! Report


                Twiggy has said he was inspired to stand up on seeing the manner in which the ARU reached their decision. He has not been front of shirt sponsor but in case people forget over there the mining crash hit hard here. Iron ore down threefold while his company was renegotiating a $5 billion debt.

                There has never been a better time since the amateur era ended to grab union by the neck. ARU on knees, SR stumbling, attendance falling, public baying for change.

                Supporters are demanding change within organisations at the top of the game, the groups that run the game, NRC, SR and more.

                Forrest is looking at this from the top down. Don’t just change individuals within current set ups, or tinker with current formats, change the whole system.

                He cannot do this without public support and bundles of cash, and I think he would get public support, nationwide. Form what my many east coast colleagues and mates say, as well as what I read on line, people are waiting to to hear a call to arms.

          • August 21st 2017 @ 3:52pm
            lobby said | August 21st 2017 @ 3:52pm | ! Report

            260 million fully franked dividend reported today, so not just on paper

          • August 21st 2017 @ 9:38pm
            Saul Wrightman said | August 21st 2017 @ 9:38pm | ! Report

            To true. He is a better polished Clive Palmer.

        • August 21st 2017 @ 2:03pm
          Ex force fan said | August 21st 2017 @ 2:03pm | ! Report

          The facts are that when the Force started there was more than 30,000 members – those people will come back provided the Force get a fair change. WA has the 3rd most registered players so the support is there. Why do they not go and watch the Force play but turned up at a rally ?

          The scheduling of Force games has always been an issue and had an impact on the crowd numbers. For example the worst crowd was form a Thursday night game, the only one this year where only 7,000 turned up pulling the match day average to below 10,000. Also WA is going through a recession in the past 3 years and many lost their jobs and just do not have the money to pay for tickets. If you want to avoid the rain it cost about $65 per ticket. Some just can’t while the rally was free. If the economy improves these will come back. The last point is that they know that the cards have been stacked against the Force winning Superugby withthe bulk of ARU funding directly to NSW and QLD. What’s the point to support a team that is used to develop players that will move when they “made” it. With locally developed players coming through the system this is changing.

          • August 21st 2017 @ 9:41pm
            Saul Wrightman said | August 21st 2017 @ 9:41pm | ! Report

            How can they have more registered players than Victoria?

            VRU has 30 clubs, three divisions.

            WA has 9 or 10 clubs.

        • August 21st 2017 @ 2:14pm
          sittingbison said | August 21st 2017 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

          These people are known worldwide as the sea of blue, who have kept turning up and supporting their team despite being kicked in the nuts by the ARU financing policies since inception.

          • August 21st 2017 @ 9:07pm
            Harry said | August 21st 2017 @ 9:07pm | ! Report

            Force Fans … I admire your passion and thought it was a terrible, shortsighted, wrong and gutless decision by the ARU to axe them, the worst decision yet by the ARU … and there has been some pretty bad ones!
            BUT, the Force’s record on the field was underwhelming for a long time. To this day, they have never made the finals, in what, 12 years of existence? For many years they produced utter dross, and even this year, despite the improvement, wasn’t anything to write home about.

            • August 21st 2017 @ 9:46pm
              Ex force fan said | August 21st 2017 @ 9:46pm | ! Report

              The playing field isn’t level and has never been. If you pay one team $5 million per year and the other $3 million per year, if you fund the pathways of one team and not the others you cannot argue results. With what the Force has they have done exceptionally well this year. Just Genia’s contract is almost 1/3 of the Force annual player budget! Also games are scheduled with a four day turnaround etc.

            • August 22nd 2017 @ 1:44am
              sittingbison said | August 22nd 2017 @ 1:44am | ! Report

              Club was almost destroyed with Woody Graham (parachuted in by ARU), and failed coach Foley (also parachuted in) who was not employed as coach but had to take on that role. Foley did good organisational good work off the which was his actual remit, but terrible as coach, no surprise after Tahs. That, combined with being behind the 8 ball in funding and salary cap makes it almost impossible to compete. The ARU has rigged the system to keep Wallabies in Sydney and Brisbane.
              Yes, a lot of dross. Finally, finally got good coaches (it’s a great team, not just Wessels) who have got the most out of the players, who appear to be a great group, committed to each other. Soooo….let’s cut them.

    • August 21st 2017 @ 12:15pm
      Waz said | August 21st 2017 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

      Definitely an optimist lol. But with good reason, there’s no short term fix to some of the issues in our game but all I’m looking for is an end to the BS, the pot-shots aimed at our own two feet, and a belief that we’ve hit rock bottom but there will soon be someone at the helm that knows up from down. I shudder at the thought of Gallop arriving to take the helm, but that aside I too remain optimistic.

    • August 21st 2017 @ 12:54pm
      Jim said | August 21st 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

      This generation just can’t do it. Yes Hooper is a good player but he is no fetcher and never has been. How do you drop Higginbotham for the bloke wearing 6 now. How did we let Liam Gill go. These blokes don’t care enough. They played like the waratahs did all year. Eddie Jones destroyed this current coach and team, by playing simple mind games and our blokes wilted. This is a good all black team but not the great one everyone loves saying. Bit of mongrel and a bit of pride is needed. Put pressure on them. We never do. This is the softest Australian team in history.

      • August 21st 2017 @ 2:27pm
        Boof Head said | August 21st 2017 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

        It all seems so obvious doesn’t it

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