After Australia’s ignominious exit from the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, a journalist interviewing Michael Cheika asked him why Australia had been running the ball wherever possible and not combined that with a kicking game.
Sorry to bring back the pain of Cheika’s reply, but it was: “That’s how we play. That’s how we play footy… We’re not going to a kick and defend game. We’d rather win our way or no way. That’s the way Aussies want us to play.”
Well, my response is: not this Aussie. Not in my name!
The torrid narrative of running rugby has been dangerous. I shake when I hear it. No matter how well meaning it is, it becomes a python squeezing any rugby intelligence out of coaches and players.
I remember how delighted I was when Cheika was appointed: great bloke, authentic, proud Australian and successful. In his first press conference, he talked about bringing back physicality and look at the nonsense he spouted (and was repeated by some of the players also) in 2019! That’s what can happen if you allow the narrative to take hold.
Be careful what you wish for. I read an article describing Australia’s recent win against NZ as ugly and suggesting Dave Rennie’s style was not easy on the eye.
Well, it was for me. It was full of heart and physicality and we beat the All Blacks.
The running rugby narrative is framed about Australian rugby supporters like myself: a West Australian who has never played rugby, played Aussie rules and couldn’t cope with such complexities as scrums and rolling mauls, but likes seeing Kurtley Beale try and run it from the back.
I admire Twiggy Forrest’s contribution to WA rugby but there is a bit of that in his approach also. Rugby is a bit too complicated for people like me, apparently.
When I first saw rugby on TV in the 1990s, I was attracted by the complexity, the diversity and the variety. What has attracted me is the physicality: seeing thudding tackles, turnovers, scrum contests, and one of my favourites, counter rucking.
As I’ve learnt more by watching the game, I have been staggered by the arrogance of this running rugby story, suggesting that – as we have gold jerseys – the defensive line should part in front of us like the Red Sea.
When I first heard the phrase “earn the right to go wide”, it all made sense, and I longed (and still do) for the time when the Wallabies’ forward dominance would return, so the backs can do their thing.
I listened to the podcast this week that had the interview with Sir Peter Cosgrove, ex-Governor General and rugby player. He made such sense when explaining why Australia needs five rugby teams (although we do need a few more Argentinians added for the next few years).
We need to appeal to more Australians, whether casual fans or converts to rugby like myself.
I used to love watching the national anthem at the AFL grand final and seeing the anthem played for gold medals at the Olympics and then I saw that the Wallabies could have that at every Test and represent me.
I still respect Aussie rules but rugby is now my sport, and everyone in my extended family in Perth supports the Wallabies – even the ones who are West Coast Eagles season ticket holders.
I am not naive. I don’t expect rugby to compete with the AFL or rugby league heartlands as the number one sport. But it has the potential to be far and away our number one international sport and there are people like me who will convert totally.
All I want to see when I watch the Wallabies is for us to be competitive every game, to be physical, to have a chance of winning, and some counter rucking, of course.
Winning rugby, now that is in my name.