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Opinion

Rugby's self-interested 'vandals' need to get out of the way if Australia wants to climb from these depths

Roar Rookie
28th September, 2023
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Roar Rookie
28th September, 2023
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In case you missed it, Eddie Jones is currently public enemy number one.

It may be cathartic for Australian Rugby fans to make Jones piñatas and take a sick day to dismantle them but what would that achieve?

It would be a tragic mistake of Shakespearean proportions to even lay the majority of blame for the current state of affairs at his feet.

There are a series of major issues that need to be addressed, including perhaps a Stephen Hoiles piñata, which I’ll come to shortly.

But before I do, let’s get real. A few home truths if you will.

Matt Williams commentating for Irish TV after the loss to Fiji, made his feelings clear when he said “it’s the end of 20 years of neglect, 20 years of poor administration, 20 years of poor technical coaching, of people not listening, we do not have a philosophy, a way to take the ball forward which is Australian. The sad thing is the people who run Australian rugby understand that and are doing the right thing.”

Eddie Jones and Carter Gordon talk during a Wallabies training session. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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Had Michael Hooper started at 7 or Quade Cooper played at 10, Wales still would have won. Both have been badly out of form for 18 months and even at their best, rarely won anything of significance.

Even a fully fit Taniela Tupou, joined by Will Skelton is unlikely to have stopped the Wallabies from blowing it as they have so often under not just Jones but also Dave Rennie and Michael Cheika too.

Admittedly, had Dave Rennie coached the Wallabies to the World Cup they probably would have made the Quarter Finals and likely faced England.

An English team Rennie’s Australia lost a home series to last year while it was coached, apparently badly, by Jones.

How many good coaches need to be crucified before we all wake up a little or even a lot?

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Ewen McKenzie’s exit was despicably engineered. Robbie ‘Dingo’ Deans was treated appallingly, never appreciated by players or administrators. Rennie was a thoroughly decent man who should have been permitted to coach out his contract but was also let down on field time and again.

Last week I wrote an article addressing Australian Rugby’s uncomfortable truth.

The players simply aren’t good enough and lack the basic skills to apply pressure consistently and as required to win tests.

Tate McDermott admitted as much when he said “It wasn’t good enough and we’ve got to own that. I’m proud of this group but it’s very hard to defend the whole team for that performance.”

Matt Williams, again commentating for Irish TV following the Welsh defeat questioned where the fight in the team was, “there was no dog in that team”, he said.

All too often the side, whether led by Michael Hooper or not, coached by Rennie or Jones, has reached pivotal junctures in games only to execute badly or give away bad penalties.

Rob Valetini runs the ball against Fiji. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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Against an average Wales that suffered the loss of its talismanic fly-half early on, the Wallabies only repeated history.

As the full time whistle was blown, I didn’t think my heart could sink any lower.

My next thought was, “well at least the only way is up now.”

Then Stephen Hoiles started speaking on Stan.

As I listened, i was appalled to hear him advocating at least one Super Rugby team be scrapped.

It’s unsurprising that a Waverley College educated, Randwick old boy should have held such a view last decade.

Yet it is nothing short of alarming that Hoiles and his ilk seem stuck in 2017 when the Force were axed in what was arguably the greatest act of self harm in the games’ history.

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Put simply, Bill Pulver and Cameron Clyne vandalised Rugby.

After all, what a fantastic idea it was to ditch a side that was well supported by many expat Kiwis and South Africans, financially guaranteed by Andrew Forrest and in a market where pulsating games of League are rarely played.

Has Stephen Hoiles learnt nothing?

Mack Hansen to Ireland. Cameron Murray to League. Pat Carrigan, Angus Crichton. The list goes on.

We need more pathways in the professional game, more opportunities to retain talent.

Instead of advocating for fewer Super Rugby teams, Hoiles should be advocating for fewer ‘fairdinkum wallies’ (the nicest way I can say it without going adults only) at Ballymore and Moore Park.

Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh (R) and Chairman Hamish McLennan. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

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Fewer self interested and conceited ‘club men’. By ‘club’ I don’t mean Subiaco, Maroochydore or Narrabri either. Those institutions need all the support they can get.

David Nucifora predicted that Australian Rugby would disintegrate if substantive, meaningful moves towards centralisation were not made ten years ago.

The fact that seems to be lost on some people, even after all that has transpired is beyond negligent, it is reckless indifference.

The men who spoke the most sense on Stan after the match were none other than Justin Harrison and James Horwill.

Harrison referred to a ‘shopping list’ of problems for the game and suggested that restricting the post mortem to Jones’ tenure was a mistake.

Horwill was similarly minded and spoke of the need to retain players from school to club to provincial rugby.

It was refreshing to see commentary that was intelligent and mature rather than self promotional, expletive laden nonsense designed for Instagram.

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So where to after saving the Force yet again, after diverting money to regional clubs without clubhouses?

People have suggested that Eddie Jones and Hamish McLennan should pack their bags in short order.

The problem is, who takes over?

It is entirely possible that should McLennan be forced out, Rugby in Australia would be led by another Pulver or Castle. Hell, we already have Phil Waugh so Stephen Hoiles stepping in probably isn’t out of the question!

The time has come for the game to be turned over to Andrew Forrest, if he’ll still have us.

Carter Gordon with Ben Donaldson. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

This is not knee jerk.

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Australian Rugby now has no leverage in any of its dealings with TV money or private equity houses, it’s already up the proverbial creek with the banks.

Rugby Australia has no power to force centralisation which is why McLennan has spoken of it for 3 years but hardly progressed.

Twiggy is the only one with the wherewithal and clout to take Rugby forward and is genuine in his desire to succeed. If Forrest’s money is good enough for RM Williams, well why look elsewhere.

Has Steven Larkham really done enough to be handed the reins for the most important 4 years of Australian Rugby history? I think not.

But Laurie Fisher and Ewen McKenzie have.

Together with Larkham, they could form the type of indomitable trio that Schmidt, Farrell and Nucifora have for Ireland.

All that would be missing is someone to persuade the power brokers in Sydney and Brisbane to cooperate.

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Someone to shake some sense into the likes of Stephen Hoiles who seems to be living in 1999 despite never playing in it.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of asking these guys politely, persuading gently.

With Andrew Forrest’s money, maybe you don’t need to. Maybe you could just start a war they couldn’t win and force them to the table? We’ve seen Rupert Murdoch do it before.

Such talk would have been ridiculed and quashed just months ago.

But that was before. This is now.

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