First of all, most of you won’t know who I am. In fact, none of you will know who I am.
I am your classic third-grade specialist (like my father before me). I am confident I would have definitely probably maybe played Super Rugby if it wasn’t for that injury, but I still take great pride in pointing out to friends all the Super Rugby players I did share the field with, even if the field was only shared for that brief moment as I clapped them through the tunnel.
The point is, I may not matter a great deal to the game of rugby union but if this sports-deprived autumn has taught me anything it is clear that rugby union matters a great deal more to me than I ever understood.
To some degree I was blessed by growing up in the era of John Eales and Stephen Larkham. Beldisloes used to make me nervous, but I was comforted by the fact I knew for a fact my Kiwi cousins were always equally nervous. Rugby was so popular in this country that despite being rugby-obsessed, I didn’t get to see a Wallabies game until I was 18. Getting a ticket at a 100,000-seat stadium was still impossible.
Then, well, you know what happened next. I don’t buy into any suggestion the players of the last decade didn’t want it enough or didn’t care about the jersey. I think there were a handful of players there that would be considered legends if they played in more consistently winning teams.
The truth is we just didn’t have the depth. Winning has become less frequent, the crowds are thinner, and the joy the game brought me has been inevitably less forthcoming.
But then, you boys started popping up.
Through junior squads, rumours began about young guns from suddenly victorious teams. Men like me were given reason to believe the dog days were over. A few of you have already donned the gold, most of you only wore your state colours for the first time this year, but it was enough to get us excited. All of a sudden, even losing Super Rugby games came with a tinge of optimism as we saw our future Wallabies assert themselves among men.
Then, well, Israel Folau, broadcast deals, boardroom infighting, and a line-up of opinion pieces intent on convincing the Australian public that the game you lot have committed your life to playing is dead in this country.
Now I can understand that at this point there could be a temptation to jump off the seemingly sinking ship. You only have one life and a short career and I concede the allure of a lucrative French or Japanese contract is something I’ve never had to resist. But I’m writing this to ask you – no, to beg you – please, we need you. And we’re still on the ship.
I know that my voice will be hard to hear among the noise of vested interests and corporate entities who see this game as a financial organism.
But I am speaking for the young boys and girls that sleep in their jerseys the night before their weekend games, I’m talking about the volunteers that pad the fields up every weekend, I’m talking about every man or woman who inherited a love for this game from their parents and whose favourite childhood memories seem disproportionately punctuated by winning Wallabies moments. This game means so much more to those you can’t hear. And you guys matter way more to these people than you could possibly imagine.
Decades in the future, when the history of rugby union in Australia is written, a significant chapter will undoubtedly be reserved for the commitments made by your young collective in the next couple of years. It is an unfair burden for you to bear, but the reality is there is a handful of men right now that have the chance to either save or condemn Australian rugby.
Anyone who has watched you play has seen what you are capable of on the field. The glory days of Australian rugby are back within our grasp. Whether or not we get there is dependent on your ability to ignore and rise above the drama a small collection of so-called important people are committed to drowning us in.
If you stay committed to the game, and if you stay committed to the jersey, you have the chance to turn Australian rugby’s darkest moment into our finest hour.
Rugby is so much more than a sport to so many of us. And your legacy will be so much more than your career choices. But I have written this letter for one sole purpose.
I truly believe that if any of you truly understood what your commitment to Australian rugby over the next few years meant to so many of us, you wouldn’t give it a second thought.
So ignore the headlines, ignore the experts, even ignore the comments sections on the Facebook posts. This country is full of people that can’t be heard, but who believe in your ability to write not just a beautiful chapter in Australian rugby, but perhaps its most crucial.