The Roar
The Roar

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This is the brutal reality: There are Aussies desperate to see Wallabies fail, and many want to see the sport's complete demise

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Expert
25th September, 2023
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10372 Reads

There are reasons. Of course there are. Hundreds of them, at least.

Eddie Jones? He’s a reason, for sure. Say what you like about Eddie Jones, and you’ll probably be right.

Hamish McLennan? He’s a reason too. In fact, anyone involved in the top echelons of Australian rugby is likely to be a reason.

There are big-picture reasons in planning and structure and grassroots, and narrow-focus reasons in training and preparation and strategy. Reasons, reasons everywhere, and not a drop of consolation in any of them.

It feels devastating to see the Wallabies knocked out of the World Cup in the group rounds, but almost more upsetting than the elimination is the fact that, after nursing the raw hurt for a few hours, a thought actually occurred to me that in my 35 years following the Australian rugby team, has never occurred to me before.

That thought was: maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s good they lost. Maybe it’s good they got humiliated.

Maybe it’s good because frankly, they got what they deserved, and so often in sport you can’t realistically address what’s going wrong until you get hit with the full consequences of your failings. It could be a wake-up call for all levels of the game.

That was the positive side of my pessimism.

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The other side was a much more depressing thought: maybe it’s good that they lost because it means the agony of watching this team this year will end sooner.

After 20 years of trying to maintain optimism in the face of increasingly grim tidings, I think I might have reached the point when I am finally wondering just what is the point of being an Australian rugby fan?

What is Australian rugby for? It’s a game with a dwindling fanbase, a shrinking playing population, ever-weakening domestic competition, and a flagship national team going backwards on rollerskates.

The people who run the game seem to either not care whether it thrives, or be so bad at decision-making they give the impression of not caring. They are apparently concerned only with the success of the national team, ignoring any issues below that level, and yet they have driven that national team into the ground.

If they can’t make a go of improving their number one priority, what chance does any other part of the game have? Then again, maybe being ignored by Rugby Australia is a blessing: who’d want that stench of death lingering around them?

Dejection for Australia players and staff after the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Wales and Australia at Parc Olympique on September 24, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Dejection for Australia players and staff after the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Wales and Australia at Parc Olympique on September 24, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

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What does rugby union offer Australia? And what is the point of any Australian getting behind it?

It was a sobering experience going on social media after the Wallabies’ humiliation. There was plenty of grief and frustration and anger, but what really hit hard was the number of Australians who were perfectly happy with the result. These are Australians who want to see the Wallabies fail. Many of them go further and are hoping for the demise of the entire sport.

What do you do as a supporter of a sport that is not just dying, but dying to the enthusiastic cheers of your compatriots who see it as just desserts for a game that has for many years been arrogant, smug, elitist and incompetent? What do you do when the pain of losing is coupled not only with the pain of systemic decay, but the pain of knowing so many other sports-lovers are gloating over your game’s corpse?

I belong to a suburban rugby club. I know the popular perception of rugby as existing only for wealthy private school boys and networks of plutocrats is not the true story of rugby in Australia. I know that all around this country there are clubs full of good, committed people who love rugby, love their clubmates, and have gained enormous joy from the game.

But I also know that the rulers of rugby have given everyone excellent reason to believe in that popular perception, and that I see no evidence they’re interested in changing that. I know that the way the game is organised means all those clubs full of good, committed people are at ever-growing risk of extinction, that kids who love the game of rugby are ever-more likely to be lost to it because nobody in a position of power bothers to think seriously about how to keep them within the rugby family.

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I know that rugby, which can be the best of all sports when it comes to community spirit and camaraderie, is being killed in Australia because it’s run by men who make it the worst of all sports when it comes to putting the people who love it first.

I’m devastated by the rock bottom the Wallabies seem to have hit, but I’m even more devastated by the fact that below the Wallabies, there doesn’t seem to be anything else giving cause for hope. If the national team was losing, but the provincial teams were strong, that would be something. If the professional game was at a low ebb but the grassroots were thriving, that would be something. If there were struggles everywhere, but there was a widespread passion for the sport, or a big next generation of rugby devotees coming through.

There’s nothing. In every way, at every level, as far as I can see, Australian rugby is contracting.

Maybe if Eddie Jones had not been hired, the pain would’ve been postponed a little. Maybe if the World Cup squad had had more experience, it wouldn’t have been so disastrous – even though what experienced Australian rugby players are mostly experienced at is losing. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

 (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

But I think it’d be foolish to think that anything as superficial as a different coach or a few different players would’ve halted the malaise that infects not just the Wallabies, but all of Australian rugby.

And so here we are. No heroes to cheer for, no rescue on the horizon, no reason to believe that this slump is anything but terminal.

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And so I ask, sincerely, and genuinely, what is the point of being an Australian rugby lover anymore? If there’s any chance that continuing with this game I’ve loved almost my whole life is going to bring me anything in the future but more sadness, please show me. I’m desperate.

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