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Poaching NZ coaches won't solve the Wallabies' woes - the real solution is a lot less sexy

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Expert
19th February, 2024
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6234 Reads

Sadly, sugar hits won’t suddenly make rugby relevant in Australia.

Eddie Jones wasn’t the answer, just as Joe Schmidt won’t be.

Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii isn’t the answer, just as Angus Crichton wasn’t going to be.

Continually pretending Taniela Tupou and Quade Cooper are world class won’t cure the Wallabies’ ills, just as the upcoming Super Rugby Pacific season won’t tell us anything about Australia’s likely Test fortunes.

Watch every match of Super Rugby Pacific ad-free, live & on demand on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport

A potential daytime Bledisloe Cup Test won’t awaken a slumbering fanbase, it’s just a way to avoid competing against the NRL finals.

The road to rugby’s recovery is a long and dull one, paved with better grassroots coaching, player identification and skill development, rather than poaching yet another winger from rugby league or coach from New Zealand.

Joe Schmidt. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Until anyone wants to address the substantive issues with the game, no highly-styled personnel announcement is going to make a blind bit of difference. Change generally has to be demanded.

There has to be a deafening call from fans, media and decorated former players before rugby administrators hear it. That’s where relevance, or the lack of it, is a problem.

Scott Robertson was announced as the new All Blacks coach in unprecedented fashion, not because it was going to help the team in its 2023 Rugby World Cup campaign, but because New Zealand Rugby (NZR) couldn’t ignore the unpopularity of Ian Foster a minute longer.

Scott Robertson.  (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images for Barbarians)

Beyond the cheerleaders at the game’s television rights holder – and a few scribes beholden to Foster – no one wanted him in charge anymore. Rugby’s relevance in New Zealand was at stake and the governing body finally acted.

I’m not in Australia, but I do consume plenty of Australian sports media. The Roar’s unique in that it affords rugby a prominence it doesn’t always enjoy in other print, radio or television mediums.

I first watched Bledisloe Cup rugby in 1980 and, for the vast majority of that time, Australia was as good as New Zealand and occasionally better. We never get bored of retaining that trophy in this country because we remember the hurt that not having it caused.

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I vividly remember Alan Jones’ side of 1986, for instance, not to mention the barren years of the early 2000s. The Wallabies were, without doubt our greatest rival, partly as a result of the cessation of sporting relations with South Africa, but mostly because the results mattered as much to Australians as they did to us.

I don’t know what changed on your side of the ditch, but I fear our rugby won’t reach World Cup-winning heights again until yours is on par.

Rugby in New Zealand isn’t in rude health either, as player wages continue to outstrip what the game can afford.

But, at least for the time being, the system keeps producing players of international quality and becoming an All Black remains the pinnacle of athletic achievement.

Which isn’t to say Super Rugby Pacific is of another particular relevance to New Zealand fans anymore.

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The willingness of NZR to allow our better players to regularly miss the competition, in favour of short-term contracts in Japan, is part of it and aligns with the fact we pay All Blacks more than they’re worth.

Until we tackle the thorny issue of picking players from overseas, our franchise footy will continue to be played in front of fewer fans and send us broke in the process.

The other issue is the lack of sustained competition coming from Australia’s teams, Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua.

And there’s the rub.

Australia has to concentrate on development, but the competition can’t wait a decade to see that come to fruition.

Like it or not, though, that has to be the focus in order for the Brumbies, Reds and Waratahs to be Super Rugby heavyweights again and the Wallabies our greatest foe. Forgive me Force fans, but that team’s never had relevance and the Rebels never will.

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(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Development is not sexy, it won’t produce overnight results and it’ll cost a lot of money. But it will pay off in the long run.

That’s the model Phil Gould built at Penrith and is trying to recreate at Canterbury. It’s what brought Wayne Bennett, thanks to scout Cyril Connell scouring age-group carnivals across Australia, so much success at the Brisbane Broncos.

You have to build from within and you have to be patient and you have to invest in young people.

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It can’t be bought with a new Wallaby coach or any recruit from the 13-man code.

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