Like any respectable rugby tragic, I’ve spent the past few years scouring articles, listening to pods and indulging the experts who all claim to know what’s wrong with Australian rugby.
I kind of have the answer, which is that our problem is multi-tentacled. That’s why pretty much every recent administrator, even John O’Neill in his second coming, has come to grief. Every time one tentacle is hacked off, two more grow in its place.
Everyone has been blamed for rugby’s difficulties, most especially the players and coaches, who are working at the coalface week after week, with every failing laid bare for the critics to dissect. As for the CEOs and chairs, well, poisoned chalice comes to mind. And who hasn’t complained about the rugby media for being either too cosy or too hostile?
There’s always someone to blame.
But one group that so far has escaped scrutiny for its part in Australian rugby’s woes is us, the supporters. That’s right, you and me.
Or do you think that none of rugby’s problems is your fault?
I’m putting up my hand to say that I’ve been part of the problem. At times, I’ve been a very bad fan.
A few years ago, I was losing interest, wanting someone else to motivate me, making every excuse under the sun not to do my duty. As a paying customer, I whined, why should I bother supporting the Wallabies when they probably weren’t going to win? I’ve supported them for years, it’s up to other people now. Anyway, it’s too cold and I hate going to Homebush.
But being a supporter is so much more than being a paying customer. Yes, it’s helpful to buy tickets, subscribe to Stan and purchase merchandise but that’s only part of it.
Being a supporter means backing your team in every way, and especially when they’re struggling. Otherwise, you’re just a fair-weather fan.
It means going to watch your team in person whenever you can because you make a difference just by being there, wearing the colours and yelling encouragement.
It means talking constructively about your team and about rugby, and not ranting just because you can.
It means not conflating losing or poor performances with a lack of commitment.
It means taking the time to provide respectful feedback to administrators about what’s working and what’s not, from your perspective.
Those of us in the east can surely learn a few lessons from the Sea of Blue, who’ve stuck fast with their team through thick and thin. They’re getting their just deserts now, with the Western Force making the Super Rugby AU finals and, so far, being the most competitive Aussie side in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman. Good on them.
Sure, overall, the Trans-Tasman results have been less than inspiring for Australian fans. But have you seen a lack of endeavour from any team, even when they’ve been outgunned and out-manoeuvred? I haven’t, and it’s that attitude that makes me really excited about what’s to come for Australian rugby.
My Super Rugby team, the Waratahs, has lost every game this season but I couldn’t be prouder of them. They’re as green as grass and have a gazillion fewer professional caps than just about everyone else. But they’re putting in every week despite numerous challenges and have uncovered a few rough diamonds that will shine for years to come.
Which is why, this coming Saturday, I’m going to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Despite the predicted cold, wet snap and the fearsome Crusaders lying in wait, I’m going to Wollongong to support my team – and without a single whinge.