There was a time, and that time has passed, when a tour by an international rugby team was something of a big deal.
In 1979 it was Ireland who came out and played eight games on tour including two Tests (that Ireland won) and my old man had some friends in the supporter group and one old fella came to lunch at our place and mum served up a good Aussie T-bone steak and this bloke’s false teeth shot out his gob, and my brother and I stared goggle-eyed, and when he left he gave us each a $20 bill.
A lobster! We’d never seen so much money. It was the equivalent of a thousand today and we bought many model airplane Messerschmitts and Stukas and fixed them together with Airfix glue, a true story.
In 1983 came Argentina and Hugo Porta was wrapped up a treat in the news. Except he didn’t seem to do much except dob field goals and penalty goals, and interest in Hugo Porta and Argentina waned in our house when they won the first Test at Ballymore because Enrique ‘Topo’ Rodriguez and two pushover scrums.
As was their way. Then Mark Ella and Brendan Moon and Roger Gould and David Campese won the next Test and rugby lived.
Anyway. Point is, we got to know the tourists. Today, not so much.
Today the Wallabies will play Argentina and even an acknowledged, ahem, “Expert” will be able to name a) the coach, Mario Ledesma, because he was the Wallabies’ scrum man for a period, and b) the giant No.8 and captain who once sported a cracking black bandido moustache and was pilloried for a racist Tweet when he was 18, such are the times, Pablo Matera.
Apart from them, though, 1-23 Los Pumas? Duck egg. Sorry not sorry. What are you gonna do? Research? Make it sound like you know what you’re talking about? Get all Gordon Bray?
Thing is, sorry not sorry – I don’t actually care who’s playing for Argentina. Their rugby is generic. They’re Springboks Lite. Big units, multiple crash ball, high balls, long kicks, ‘win’ penalties at scrum, ruck and maul, kick it out, kick goals, repeat. What does it matter that Emiliano Boffelli is piss-fast if he’s just there to chase someone’s kick?
Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical.
So, no, sorry not sorry – don’t care about the Argies. Would like to. Do not.
Do care about the Wallabies, however, who beat the world champion Springboks twice in a row, which has been really good. Some of the rugby last weekend, well… hellooo, Wallabies. Do you come here often?
Another rhetorical one: how good! Answer: very good, friend. Very, very good. And if they do that again to Los Pumas, and pressure them hard up guts and spin the pill wide and fly down the blind, and keep that ball in hand with multiple offloads – and stuff their heads up their jacksies at scrum time as they did South Africa – well, they will win friends and influence people.
Because all of this cracking action is on glorious digital free-to-air television and also on Stan, the flat-out weirdest name for a television channel in the history of the medium. It’s like calling your dinner Susan or the internet Peter or the scandalous non-use of water cannon on anti-vax protesters Lucille.
Or something I dunno. But it is an excellent television channel, our Stan, or at least appears so when the green-and-gold machine is #winning games of Test match rugby, and doing it in some style.
Clash of styles Saturday night, as always, when one plays Boring Bok Lite, but viewers should know this: Quade Cooper.
Yes! The benighted one is 33 years of age and fitter than so many trout, and after spending so many years as a global rugby troubadour that he didn’t tick enough boxes on a form for Australian citizenship (like, what?), Cooper has coupled a dead eye for a chink in opposition armoury with the patience of a wizened elder.
For where Noah Lolesio and Hunter Paisami would ping cool-looking but intercepted flat torpedo passes, Cooper’s work is subtle. And effective. And it’s smart.
Ewen McKenzie once said Cooper was the best he’d coached at applying a game plan, and I scoffed and you probably scoffed, too. That bouncing, crazy hep-cat can affect a game plan? What plan? Spinning plates on his head?
And yet, here we are. And Cooper’s won two Test matches on the trot for Australia. And we’re loving him up a treat.
As we are all the backs. Len Ikitau! Marika Koroibete! Andrew Kellaway! Samu Kerevi! Well, hellooo, sailors…
Scott Wisemantel is the Wallabies’ backs coach and my man Andy Friend, once of Waratahs and Australia sevens, today head coach of Connacht, says Wisemantel is “one of the good guys”.
“His thing is surfing, lobster fishing, chilling out and analysing games of rugby and watching blokes play it,” Friend says.
“He’s very, very good at what he does. He’s had a lot of experience in France, in Japan. He’s coached under Eddie Jones and been battered by Eddie but come back from that!
“Just a tremendous fella with a lovely way with people. People just trust him.”
Credit also to Dave Rennie, Scott Johnson and Dan McKellar for bringing Cooper in. And for giving the young men around him a game plan that he can so expertly drive. According to the injured Tom Banks, it’s a plan they believe can beat the best teams in the world.
And belief is more than half the battle. When you believe, you start to play. And when talented players are ‘playing’, well… they can do anything.
And yet, for all that, for mine, it’s the Wallabies’ forwards, stupid. Back row, locks, big pigs up front – great stuff all. High pressure, all-action, serious physicality, these people are relishing the confrontations, and winning them. Matt Philip is running about with eyes like poker machine reels. It’s a joyous thing.
And yet, Saturday at 8pm at Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville, of late the centre of the sports universe, is another big Test for these surging Wallabies, who are taking a burgeoning, half-excited, still trepidatious supporter base along for a pretty nice ride.
Pressure’s on for more of the same.
Yet as a wise man, if not Wisemantel, once said: Go you good things.