‘Rugby in Australia is dead’, ‘Another nail in the coffin’ – I’m sick of this tired old trope.
I’ll declare that I’m a proud Kiwi, so it may seem odd that I have a vested interest in the success of Australian rugby – I may even be on the receiving end of a crooked look from my family. But I have to be honest – the future of rugby in Australia is bright.
That’s not to put the blinkers on and ignore that there are problems with governance and a general malaise about the quagmire that is ‘Super’ Rugby, but the outlook of rugby union can be looked at two ways. You can wither wail and gnash teeth regarding the perceived imminent downfall, or you can unclench your jaw for a moment and look at some of the things we have to look forward to.
Here are just a few!
The Australian Schoolboys
A drought-breaking win against New Zealand Schools – and in New Zealand no less – after stoutly defending against a Kiwi side that controlled 90 per cent possession and territory for most of the game says a lot about the attitude of the group and bodes well for the future.
The grassroots of Australian rugby is stronger than ever. I had the pleasure of attending the recent Randwick versus Argentina game at Coogee Oval. What a wonderful spectacle that was despite the score. There were people hanging from the rafters and a fantastic atmosphere that warmed the heart of this old rugby tragic.
This is a microcosm of how well the Shute Shield is progressing. The level is getting better every year and crowd numbers are on the rise. This is proof that people love the game – they are looking for an outlet, which the Shute Shield is providing nicely.
The Rugby World Cup
Australia being poised to throw their hat in the ring to host the 2027 World Cup could provide a timely boost to players and administrators alike. It would galvanise the game and get people excited about hosting the third-biggest global sporting competition in the world despite the relative angst in Australia regarding ratings and attendance at the highest level. Rugby is fast becoming a true global sport and Australia would do well to back the Wallabies and welcome the world in 2027.
The era of big-money contracts to cross-code players is over. While that may be a fiscal reality, the benefit is the focus has now shifted to the youth and there’s a greater emphasis on coaching to ensure the basics are better executed. Judging by the display of the Schoolboys this week, it’s bearing fruit already.
There’s plenty to be excited about in the next phase of rugby in Australia. I have seen 100s of articles dissecting the problems and professing doom and gloom, but one thing that always gets left out is the passion for the game. Attending a Waratahs game recently and speaking to a proud father with his daughter keenly watching on, I will never forget what he said to me: “The love of the game is here and that’s all that matters”.
Let’s go, Australia! Just don’t beat the All Blacks.