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The Wrap: The art of writing the recurring rugby column

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17th November, 2019
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Guy Fawkes night passes seems to pass with little fanfare these days, overshadowed by more intrinsically Australian celebrations like Halloween.

It does however provide pause for thought – who will step forward and blow up, not the Houses of Parliament, but Rugby Australia?

Let me explain.

One of the challenges of writing a weekly column is to keep things interesting for the regular reader by coming up with new topics, new angles on familiar topics, occasionally experimenting with style and so on.

It’s tricky because readers like the comfort and familiarity of returning to something that will reliably reward them for their investment of time. But at the same time, they don’t want to read the same column over and over again.

Or do they?

It’s been instructive over the last couple of years to read the back page of The Australian every Friday, and learn that it’s quite possible for a columnist to write just one column, then, like watching the Sunwolves’ Hayden Parker knock over 38 consecutive goals in Super Rugby, sit back as every week passes, and watch the same article run and re-run, like clockwork.

All of which begs the question – if it’s good enough for Australia’s only national daily newspaper then it must be good enough for The Roar.

So here it is, out with the old, in with the new. Like Matt Damon in the movie version of Patricia Highsmith’s ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’, adopting the persona of Jude Law’s Dickie Greenleaf, here’s what happens when one rugby writer becomes another, and finally gets fair dinkum about getting his teeth into the real issues that are at the heart of rugby’s malaise in Australia.

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The New Wrap: Time to blow up the shambles that is Rugby Australia
Hands up who thinks Rugby Australia has lost the plot?

Hundreds and hundreds of you it seems, all good rugby people, who write to me every week, fed up to the eye’s teeth with the bungling from entitled Rugby Australia administrators.

Like Mick from Taree, who writes; “It’s way past a joke, we just want our game back. Clyne and Castle must go.”

And what about Kev from Goondiwindi, who writes, “The Wallabies’ embarrassing exit from the World Cup not only happened on Castle’s watch, but was rooted in the PC inclusivity madness that has invaded the sport. Under proper leadership, from real rugby people who know what a good old-fashioned rucking is all about, David Pocock wouldn’t have hesitated to tuck the ball under his arm and charge into the English backfield.

“But what we got instead was a lame intercept, gifting a soft try to England – a sure sign of a player thinking instead about which tree he was going to hug next, or about attending a sponsors evening, putting his arm around Qantas CEO Alan Joyce and thanking him for him drumming Australia’s best player out of the game.’

I was particularly touched by Bill from Randwick, when he wrote, “I have twin boys who recently celebrated their 7th birthday. My wife gave each of them a football jumper, a Sydney Swans one for Mitchell and a Wallabies one for Felix. Mitchell was beside himself, taking selfies and jumping up and down with delight. Felix bawled his eyes out.”

We all know how Felix feels. What more proof is needed that something needs to be done, right now, to put a bomb under the monstrosity that is Moore Park HQ?

It’s hard to know where to begin, there is simply so much that is rotten in Rugby Australia. But let’s start with two things that must be driven out of the game in order for us to relive the glory days of 1984 – women and New Zealanders.

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Raelene Castle

(AAP Image/Daniel Munoz)

Let’s not mince words. Chaff bags and socks were invented for a reason. Rugby was invented for a reason – by and for men.

Fit, god-fearing, not afraid of a cuss word or two, men, who would face off in combat on the field and embrace in collegial fellowship afterwards.

It is not to denigrate women to state a genetic fact, that they will never inherently understand this.

Yet the Rugby Australia board – a blancmange which, if there was any honour among its members, would resign en-masse so that the game could be given back to people who care – somehow saw fit to appoint a woman to run the game. Unbelievable!

Look at how Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was subjected to the humiliation of having a Director of Rugby, Scott Johnson, appointed above him as an overseer.

Was it any wonder that Cheika arced up at a function at the Australian Embassy in Tokyo? He should have been left alone to do his job.

Any of us would be insulted by the insinuation that we weren’t capable of performing our jobs without someone looking over our shoulder.

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How was this supposed to help the team bring home the World Cup?

CEO Castle also showed her ineptitude when she had the chance to sack Cheika after last year’s northern hemisphere tour, but failed to do so. Any person with rugby in their veins would have known what was required and followed through.

(Editor’s note: haven’t you just contradicted yourself?)

(Writer’s note: why don’t you just stick to fixing the spelling and grammar?)

If all the talk is true, then Rugby Australia seems set to appoint another New Zealander to coach the Wallabies, Dave Rennie.

As far as I can tell, Rennie’s credentials extend to getting a bus driver to carry the can for an end of season fiasco when he was coach of the Chiefs, and being managed by the same management company as Australia’s recently appointed Director of Rugby, Scott Johnson.

Is Rugby Australia so bereft it would eschew a proper worldwide search for the best coach available just to save a few pennies to have Rennie bundled into a package deal with Johnson? Please.

Scott Johnson.

(Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

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It is a well-known fact that for any New Zealander, the All Blacks come first, second and third. It is naïve in the extreme to believe that they will ever understand why and how Australia is girt by sea. Yet we continue to kowtow to this idea that we don’t have any home-grown coaching talent.

What next – is Rugby Australia going to tell us that they are bringing in bumbling Kiwi Ben Skeen, to coach our budding young TMO’s? You wouldn’t put it past them.

Just close your eyes for a moment and imagine how much better Australia would be if everyone just went back to where they came from.

Let me remind you of another fact – no foreign coach has ever won the World Cup. And note how the recent World Cup in Japan contained no fewer than six New Zealand coaches across the twenty competing nations. All of them losers.

(Editor’s note: No Australian coach has won the World Cup for twenty years either)

(Writer’s note: That’s beside the point)

Another example of Rugby Australia’s culpability is this ridiculous ‘Giteau Law’ situation, where we make it impossible for ourselves to be competitive, while we refuse to pick all of our best talent.

I’ve heard that there are at least twenty players based overseas who would be certain first choice picks for the Wallabies if only we’d open our eyes and let them play. You couldn’t make this stuff up!

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(Editor’s note: You just did)

When it comes to Rugby Australia’s board, it’s not as if there are no alternatives when it comes to injecting fresh new blood.

Tony Abbott for one, would be an inspired choice, a man with the ability to unite all Australians behind a cause.

George Pell is another who would provide the game’s administration with real diversity – admittedly once he is over a few minor legal technicalities that he’s working through currently.

It’s time to blow the joint up and start again.

(Editor’s note: Here might be a good place to explain what that actually means and perhaps outline some alternatives and explain how that will ensure better outcomes for both professional rugby and grass roots rugby)

(Writer’s note: You’re starting to seriously piss me off now)

There is a ray of hope on the horizon, and I don’t mean the Australian Under 20 side who Doug from Dubbo wrote and informed me, missed out by the narrowest of margins bringing home the world champions title this year (When you carry the responsibility of being the mouthpiece for ‘quiet Australians’ it doesn’t leave time to watch much actual rugby. That’s where you, my loyal readers, are so valuable).

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No, let Maria of Kenthurst explain; “I know of someone who lost his job recently, sent packing from a game he loves like no other, or at least more than the other two he played. Just for standing up for religious freedom. Faced with mounting legal expenses and mortgage repayments on his property portfolio, all without an income, he turned to crowd funding.

“Amazed by the capacity of fellow humans to open their hearts and wallets simultaneously, I can’t help thinking that those same people wouldn’t find another couple of million, more than enough to buy out Rugby Australia, flush it down the dunny and start again.”

There you go. Ordinary Australians like Maria who understand how fat cats like Clyne and Castle are out of touch and driving rugby in Australia to despair.

(Editor’s note: Do you seriously expect me to print this?)

(Writer’s note: This week, next week, and every week after that. Same article every time, just play around with the title a bit)