With the World Cup over for Australia, the men in gold are arriving home justifiably disheartened by their failed mission and the prospect of being known for falling short for the next four years.
Cruel and unkind judgement is something Aussie fans do way too well. Players end their career and coaches look for opportunities overseas. but the rugby juggernaut heads on for another four-year cycle.
Then we talk up our chances and spin doctors go into hyper-spin to get us all hooked again. And we do!
But what happens now? Who will be our coach? Who will be the next John Eales or Nick Farr-Jones? Do we have a Rod Macqueen out there to take the reins?
The press, fans, CEO and chairman all want a silver-bullet answer. Dave Rennie? Jordan Petaia? Some say yes, some say no. The press will use these topics to write articles and devoted fans will interact. Life goes on.
But we do need to drink from the cup of reality.
The fact is we are ranked where we are: outside the top five in lowly sixth place, a true reflection of our recent performances.
We have a rugby administration that’s made more than enough PR mistakes. They pretend, we pretend and the self-deceit of rugby in Australia goes on.
Senior-level competitions are chaotic, with a premier club going broke and not enough players, yet other clubs put 20 players in the stands each week without the prospect of getting more than a few games for the season.
Our young players have learnt to catch and pass but are being signed to NRL clubs who recognise their talent and will secure their code’s future with our players.
Suburban clubs are made to stay amateur, meaning anybody who wants to invest in their local rugby club’s on-field success cannot help players with a few bucks. Remember a first-grade suburban rugby league player can earn a $1000 per game. Then there are those clubs which have five Colts teams for a three-team competition and struggle to find a game for all of them to play.
Administrators are blocking, Clubs are manipulating and self-interest wins out.
Women’s interaction with the game is our glory moment. It’s been such a joy to watch the sport in Australia succeed in this new frontier.
But where do we go from here?
Let’s get into a truth session and look at ourselves.
First truth: Rugby is a grassroots game
Wallabies success starts with kids. Get them inspired and coached well and give them a pathway that sees success for them as players. Teach them the catch, pass, run, kick and tackle skills needed. It’s not that hard; it’s just a focus thing. Ask any high school teacher. Build your base and watch the growth towards success.
Second truth: Administrators serve players, not the other way around
Why make rules that say ‘no’ when all you want is for them to succeed. Could Scott Fardy or a Will Skelton have made a difference this World Cup? We can only wonder. What did we gain by not even choosing to look at them?
Our administrators should focus on getting players to play. Have feeder club systems that make it easier for players to move up and down the ladder. Focus on players playing our game every weekend. It works for rugby league, why wouldn’t it work for us?
Add support to the system by reducing registration fees, supplying rugby kits to players and getting young players on sandwich contracts of education and playing.
Don’t use the cop-out of not enough money – get your sponsorship team onto the task. The association of corporate and public is the name of the game.
Oblige the pro players to have active roles developing and inspiring the young ones coming through. It’s about professionalism as a player – after all, we all work a 40-hour week, so they can as well.
Respect for people is earnt on the field of play and off the field in training and working with the base.
I was at the Hamilton 7s tournament and the Australia girls 7s team attended to mix with the players, run water and coach. Giving back, earning respect and not a dollar asked for – how good! I am so proud of our Aussie 7s girls.
Third truth: Secure young talent
Our base is not that large but it does okay for its size. What we can never afford is to lose talent to other codes. What we want are talented players from other codes to come to us. Rugby offers so much to young aspiring players; all we need to do is to get them into the system on small sandwich contracts at 15 to 16 years of age that has them study and move into premier rugby clubs for monitoring and coaching. It builds the sport. Let’s not lose the talent because we don’t have a spare $10,000
We have marquee players earning millions with secondary endorsements contracts and possibly only two years to play in their elite career. New talent with 15 years to play must be scooped up. Investment in youth always makes sense.
Fourth truth: Rugby is a young man’s game
We love the game, we play the game and we try to defy the game, but elite rugby has a short time frame during which you’re at your absolute best. That’s usually in the 20 to 34-year-old age range.
Australians love their heroes, and it’s great to show respect for the effort they put into the game. As Jordan Petaia showed great talent at this year’s World Cup one day, he too will have to face the prospect of being the Adam Ashley-Cooper of his day. It’s the natural cycle of things.
Coaches come and go, players come and go – it’s actually good to see. As long as they come and go in greater numbers, our prospects will hopefully come and stay.
Fingers crossed the next three months in Rugby Australia brings a halcyon era with sensible reform.