It’s funny how music can teleport you back to another place in time.
To distant fairy-tale lands filled with John Howards, Shane Warnes and Wallabies winning Bledisloes.
The motivation for this piece is none other than the Aussie legend John Williamson. Sitting at work listening to his ‘Anthems’ album, I think back to a passionate sea of Wallabies supporters belting out Waltzing Matilda along with the man himself.
The fans were arm in arm, all several Bundies deep, responding to the All Blacks haka.
Although to the uninitiated Waltzing Matilda may seem a feeble attempt at responding to such a fearsome and spectacular challenge, it’s all we had, and if you perform any song with enough passion and collective intent, it has the desired effect.
The desired effect being a swelling in national pride, with players and supporters uniting as one. The intent was for nothing less than a wallaby’s victory.
These were times when you puffed your chest out (and sucked your stomach in) when wearing your Wallabies jersey. When you looked forward to seeing your kiwi mate at work or school the next week.
Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t always win, but we were always proud. And when I use the collective “we” I’m talking about fans and players alike.
Granted, as a fan, it wasn’t hard to support the likes of Bernie Larkham, an incredibly talented and passionate Wallaby. Although being somewhat of a string bean, he was never shy about grabbing an All Black by the scruff of the neck and pulling him in face to face (and not in the traditional Maori greeting sense).
However it’s easy to lay down the gauntlet to a much larger opponent when you have 80,000 willing participants ready to jump to your defence.
Bundaberg Rum will do this to a man. You get the sense that some current day Wallabies would be quick to apologise to their Kiwi counterpart should they ever have the audacity to perform such an act.
Probably not sure that the 15,000 in the crowd would be willing to help, let alone the 14 on the field.
Wallabies supporters are quick to point fingers at a losing team that is no doubt somewhat difficult to support. But surely it’s a case of cause and effect, the collective power of a stadium full of supporters passionately singing and cheering you on to victory has an immeasurable and intangible effect on a players will to win.
There is no award for suggesting that there are major issues with how Rugby is being managed in this country.
Australian rugby needs a dramatic overhaul to bring it back to the halcyon days, starting from the fundamental, grass roots development structure.
In my opinion there is no more important agenda item than expanding the youth participation and supporter base outside of the “traditional” rugby heartlands- i.e .beyond the private school system.
This is a commonly held, “bottom-up” viewpoint. Support the clubs and grassroots level. Build the foundation and talent base from beneath, and the game and national team will prosper together into the future.
The ARU have typically been lambasted for a ‘top-down’ approach, more attuned with spending money on a rugby league convert to plug a hole of missing talent at the elite level, as opposed to addressing why that talent was missing from rugby in the first place.
However, times like these call for some “out of the box” thinking. Maybe the ARU’s “top-down” philosophy has been the right one all along?
Maybe we do only need to focus on getting the Wallabies to win Test matches, thus bringing back the fans, the fans, in turn, have kids, these kids grow up to play rugby, and the cycle continues.
Culminating in the Wallabies again lifting the world cup in circa 2035. With this in mind, I have re-written the ARU’s previously top-secret 197-point action plan drafted in the early 2000’s boldly titled – “Top-down Management: How to decimate a previously popular and much-loved sport by ignoring grass-roots development in just 20 years”.
I have taken an ultra-simplified approach to ensure those at the ARU can execute the plan with a minimum of board meetings and long lunches. I have removed previously included action items such as:
Item 46. find out who is good at rugby league and then pay them a lot of money to play rugby union.
Item 98. work to increase the preferred “mix” percentage of contracted professional players coming from a GPS school up to the desired 90 per cent. For reference, the preferred player mix should consist of:
a. 8% Rugby League players
b. 2% miscellaneous
c. 90% GPS players (to keep the 10% in line)
I have replaced these 197 action points with just two:
Item 1. Bring back John Williamson and Waltzing Matilda
Item 2. Bring Back full-strength rum to the venues
The players and fans will take care of the rest.