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Bollocks to the doom merchants - Super Rugby 2024 offers Australian rugby its most glorious opportunity

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20th February, 2024
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It will be a relief, this coming weekend, to see some actual rugby being played in Australia and New Zealand: genuine, serious, no-fooling, for-keeps, non-trial rugby.

The beginning of the Super Rugby season will come as manna from heaven for those of us who are suffering severe sports administration fatigue – and not that I want to speak for anyone else, but I’m guessing that’s pretty much literally every Australian rugby fan up to and including Phil Waugh.

Don’t get me wrong, all the talk of coaches and pathways and structures and plans and funding and staffing and teams ceasing to exist is important, and it will keep going, and it will have to be sorted, and I desperately hope that those whose job it is to sort it do it well. But this weekend we will be able, I hope, to simply watch the games and spend a few hours concentrating on nothing else but the reason that all that off-field stuff matters in the first place: the fact that we love the sport, as maddening as it can be. It’ll be nice to take a break from wondering whether Rugby Australia can service its debt or what, exactly, a high performance program is, and just watch some footy.

Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh will be ectastic to watch footy this weekend. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

That being said, the games themselves obviously have the potential to drive we Aussie fans into an even deeper gloom, as the local teams have made a habit in recent years of using their on-field actions more as a reminder of the game’s overall malaise than as a distraction from it. Spirits, it has to be said, are not high across this great land.

If your team isn’t worrying that their personnel are insufficient to avoid humiliation, they’re worrying that any day now they might find out that their clubhouse has been sold to pay the lighting bill. The most hopeful among us think that maybe one of the five teams might sneak into a semi-final, if the wind is fair and everything goes right. The least hopeful among us think that if anyone even knows Australian rugby exists by year’s end we can call it a win.

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We seem to have every reason to prepare for an intensely depressing experience in Super Rugby this year. Which is why I want to say, right here and right now: bollocks to that.

I want to send a message to every Australian rugby supporter, but most of all to everyone suiting up for a Super Rugby franchise in 2024, and that message is: nil desperandum, dear friends. For in the depths of despair lie always the seeds of the greatest glory. Lest we forget that the Chinese word for “crisis” is also the word for “urban myth about the Chinese language”.

I would like Australian rugby as a whole to look on 2024 not as the season that threatens exciting new ways to experience pain, but as a chance to do the extraordinary. That chance is a gift to Australian rugby, a gift that New Zealanders will probably never get, because when you’re always on top you never get the chance to stun the world with unexpected magnificence.

That is what lies before every Australian Super Rugby team as the season begins: an opportunity to spit in the face of doubt, to obliterate expectations and to make the world cast a bewildered eye upon Australia as it gasps in astonishment, “Where the bloody hell did THAT come from?”

That might seem impossible, given the reality of who is playing for our teams and who is playing for theirs, and the mountains of evidence gathered over a couple of decades of the direction that all Australian rugby teams are trending in.

Happy times are here again. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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But the first point to make is a crucial one: when you’re starting from a base this low, you don’t necessarily have to do much to prove people wrong. When everyone thinks you’re in an irreversible coma, you don’t have to climb Everest to surprise them: you just have to get out of bed. This Super Rugby season is a chance for the Waratahs, Reds, Brumbies, Force and even the battered old Rebels to get out of bed. It’s a chance to tell everyone that there is still life in this country. More than that, there is still FIGHT in this country.

That’s what I want every team to show, and every fan to look for: the fight. The scrap. The willingness to hurl bodies again and again into a brutal fray even when all seems lost, because the time has come to stand in the light and declare that Australian rugby teams can be beaten, but they can never be broken. The time has come for everyone taking the field this weekend to let their opponents know what they are made of. The time has come for Australian rugby to inspire us as it once did, and inspiration does not always require spectacular skills or incredible athleticism, or even ruthless efficiency. Sometimes, to inspire, all you need to do is to go into battle with the promise that whatever happens out there, you would suffer anything before you’ll be accused of letting your team down.

Sometimes, all that is needed to bring hope and joy to your followers is, as the song says, to be willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause.

That’s the first point. The second is this: you just never bloody know, do you? The West Indies could not possibly have won the last Test match against Australia. Leicester City could not possibly have won the Premier League in 2016. Kieren Perkins cannot possibly have won a gold medal in the 1500m from lane eight. Australia had absolutely no chance of winning the America’s Cup. We love sport because as illogically heartbreaking as it tends to be, it offers the hope of the utterly ludicrous, every now and then, actually happening.

And as mentioned earlier, what greater gift could be given to the much-maligned rugby players of Australia than the chance to make the utterly ludicrous happen? For let’s be honest, as much as we are all death-riding our teams this year, and as much as we are certain that triumph is beyond them…there is a corner of our heart that will never stop believing miracles can happen. That’s why we’re tuning in.

Or to put it another way, with thanks to Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Elendil, rightful king of Gondor and wielder of Anduri, previously Narsil, the sword that was broken and re-forged:

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Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Sydney, of Brisbane, of Canberra, of Melbourne, of Perth, my brothers! A day may come when the courage of Australians fails, when we forsake our rucks and break all bonds of maul, but it is not this day. An hour of missed tackles and shattered scrums, when the age of Wallaby comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you STAND, MEN OF AUSTRALIAN RUGBY!

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