My son plays rugby and has a superb athlete in his team. Seriously, the kid is a freak – represents schools, districts, regions and states at pretty much any sport he decides to have a go at.
In rugby, he can catch, pass, kick, tackle, run faster than everyone, win turnovers and is almost always the best on ground.
Trouble is, the rest of the team know this and are, on occasion, lackadaisical in their approach to their own skills and effort, knowing this kid will be there to clean up after them.
We regularly lose games in the last quarter because he’s tired from doing everything all game, and they’re still dependent on him doing so.
In a similar way, Israel Folau has some good skills in attack, but is placed on a pedestal and is expected to excel at everything. He doesn’t have the talent or all-round abilities of the boy in my son’s team, but his attacking prowess is expected to excuse all his faults and win matches for the Waratahs and Wallabies.
One of the (many) issues for the Tahs and the Wallabies is their holding up of players as superstars and the belief or these superstars that they can do whatever they want and still be a superstar.
Folau is a great attacking player and many in the world would fear having to jump against him or tackle him at pace, but they certainly wouldn’t worry about playing a field position game against him (despite the monster punt he unloaded on the weekend). It’s left to Bernard Foley and, to a lesser extent Kurtley Beale, to do all the clearing kicks, leading to fatigue, poor options and poor kicking (particularly if your kicking wasn’t that great to begin with).
I posit this as a theory: media and social media is to blame. No longer is the grafter revered. No longer is the hard work valued over the dazzling moment. It’s all about the soundbyte, the social media hits, the highlight reel. Kids these days see that and want to mimic it. There’s no more just getting on with what needs to be done and doing it.
The media is used by the opposition as a tool, listen to the All Blacks hold a mirror to our beliefs about Folau: “he’s such a dangerous player”, “he’s really hard to defend against” etc.
Listen to what they’re not saying but are getting out on the field and exploiting.
Look at what Jake White did with the Brumbies: purged the names, simplified the gameplan, focused on basic skills, and creating a team mentality and environment where blokes who put their heads in dark places were celebrated.
How many times has Scott Fardy ever made the highlight reel? Keven Mealamu? Martin Johnson? Any Whitelock?
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These days we have celebrities who seem interested in promoting their brand (thank you, James O’Connor) and their profile, rather than taking a good hard look at themselves and improving their deficiencies.
The All Blacks sweep the dressing rooms. Jake White’s Brumbies went back to local clubs and played with amateurs, who were out there for love of the game.
Society, I blame you for the failure of our Australian rugby sides. You revere the moment of brilliance over 80 minutes of work, you value attack over defence.
As a young man, I used to box and while chatting with one of the older boxers, he mentioned that he’d rather win a fight 1-0 than 25-24 (with old-school amateur scoring). Don’t get hit. Don’t leak the points.
Look at the contrast with the Blues, who play all-out attack, against the Crusaders, who have a staunch defence but fewer attacking threats. Who’s winning more games?
The Kiwis don’t have better athletes than us, just better team players. Eddie Jones is a two-year coach. So is Jake White. And Michael Cheika. I like Ned Hanigan and think he’s a good player (he was just promoted too high, too fast).
Australia, this is all your fault.