The Roar
The Roar

Roar Pro

Joined February 2012







Sean Fagan - writer/author



True sheek. VFL in Melbourne didn’t add any teams as the city grew outwards after WW2. Conversely, the NSWRL tried to step in pace with the growth. The VFL didn’t add the equivalent of Penrith or Cronulla, and in those areas, as in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, people support a traditional inner city club, which is really a brand. The difference with the NSWRU is trying to make a professional competition out of a club district scheme mentality designed to treat everyone equally & to ‘work’ your allotted district resources. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, just alternative models. All I’ll say is trying turn a suburban club into a strong brand is difficult, especially in RU where the clubs have not had an intended purpose to be a professional sport. Not all AFL clubs in Melbourne are the strength of the other clubs (brands). btw, not a free plug, I don’t know the gent, but “London’s Oldest Rugby Clubs” is a terrific book

Is private ownership coming to Aussie rugby?

sheek – you raise an interesting point. For mine the problem with rugby at club level in Sydney is that it is always based on a suburban geographic division.

The 1900 clubs weren’t really clubs at all, but akin to local branches of the Labor party – they just divided the city’s rugby resources up on a map into a ‘district’, and had each district elect a committee to run its area/teams, and to send reps to sit on the city-wide joint board meeting (the MRU).

The Sydney system & clubs of the 1890s were in some cases aligned to a particular suburb, but players, fans & financial benefactors could come from anywhere in Sydney. Other clubs, indeed the more successful clubs (hence why the district scheme was pushed!) were Wallaroos, Pirates or Wentworths and others that, like the University, had no residential basis for membership or decision to support or play for them. This was the same in London, and gave us iconic rugby brands such as Wasps, Harlequins, London Irish etc, that are not beholden to a part of London for players or supporters. In fact, London doesn’t have a top tier rugby club playing within its civic boundaries at all at the moment.

Sure there’s nothing stopping someone in Birrong being a Manly Marlins or Randwick fan, member or player, but it really needs to be of the brand, longevity, popular scale of NRL clubs to get away with geographic based suburban clubs (though Cronulla, Penrith, Parramatta and to an extent Manly suffer the same impediment to growth, and the mid 1990s Sydney Bulldogs & Sydney Tigers failed).

Still, the A-League & AFL have introduced new teams and followed the geographic divide model, rather than having 2 Sydney wide teams. As far as I can tell, New York’s NFL Giants & Jets have nothing to do with suburban identity & alignment.

All of which is a long way round to saying if I was to start up a new club rugby competition, when it comes to Sydney, I wouldn’t go for suburban divisions but establish Sydney wide clubs, especially if shared/central ground is to be used. Others will argue that Balmain, Randwick, are iconic enough to build upon, and they may be right. University too,as it did in 1900, may again endure into the new.

Is private ownership coming to Aussie rugby?

Thanks for the walk down memory lane Sheek! Being not too many winters behind you much of what you wrote about playing rugby in Sydney in that era resonated.

On the wider issue, there was a quote I used last year on The Roar (“Are the Reds a blueprint for the Waratahs?” – for some reason we can’t link posts to Roar articles??) from Wally Matthews in 1933, retired Sydney University captain and NSW halfback, manager of the AIF war team in 1918 & the Wallabies in 1933 in Sth Africa (where he made the statement):

While many would today surmise “the running game” was adopted to give Australian teams the best chance of winning, coupled with a belief it was a noble and unselfish way to play the amateur game, Matthews explained at the outset of that 1933 visit to South Africa that there was a deeper imperative for the existence of this ethos – rugby in Australia was in competition with other codes, particularly in the Waratahs home city.

“We are going to play football in the way we play it in Australia,” said Matthews. “We hope to play the open game which we have to play in Australia to retain support. We have to keep our game spectacular to hold our own against rugby league and Australian rules. Whether we win or lose is not our major consideration. We want to entertain.”

Yes it is unfair the Australian Super teams & Wallabies of today have this additional burden, but it is the reality, always has been, and can’t be ignored.

Reconnecting with grassroots rugby

MikeN. Wholly agree with your sentiment that 7s should be used with a higher profile. I think there is some 7s work being done in schools but maybe it needs more publicity.

I wrote back in March on The Roar that I thought 7s could have a very exciting future of new clubs & competitions, but nothing seems to be happening along those lines at all (there is in the UK & USA though).

7s rugby from what I can see affords the potential for a small group to independently form a small one-team rugby club, devise their own colours, jersey and mascot, and quickly begin to embrace and enjoy the social trappings, connections & sponsors that being part of a rugby club and match-day offers.

Somewhat akin to ‘Golden Oldies’ perhaps, but for all ages, offering far more regular games, and establishing a permanent club (a process made even simpler in today’s world of instant communication and social tools). The creation of these micro rugby clubs could provide a means for those who want to play rugby, but can’t commit to it every week, nor the training demands.

Yet, it is this last point that could stymie the potential of Sevens to grow rugby – 7s is a very physically demanding sport played out on a full sized field, even though it is intended (below the elite levels) as a social game.

If nothing is done, 7s will inevitably be restricted to those who play (or aspire to play) at the professional level, or in the tournaments and development teams that exist as a pathway toward it.

The thing about 7s that I see is that it can get people involved who are not getting involved in XVs rugby – whether player, official, sponsor etc. It shouldn’t be a matter of extracting resources from XVs to sustain & build success & growth of 7s. It should be a separate product & arm of the game.

Good on you MikeN for raising the 7s issue again.

Olympic sevens rugby is key to player numbers

sheek you make some interesting observations. The appeal of an Olympics & shot at a gold medal is a big drw, but you’re right, 7s is already available to all that want to play, including a world 7s circuit.

Olympic sevens rugby is key to player numbers

Good timely overview Spiro!

There might be some confusion re the 1937 jersey – the retro version you mentioned & in the photo here isn’t blue/maroon, but white with a green band (gold added to top/bottom of band).

Since Jack Pollard wrote that piece in his book re green/gold, it’s been shown that our pre WW1 Olympic teams made some use of green/gold, and that by the end of the 1920s all three of our national representing football codes wore green/gold jerseys. Sheek above is referring to the Kangaroos 1928 hooped jersey. Jack also seems to have overlooked that the 1939 Wallabies (that arrived in England just as WW2 broke) had a solid green jersey. The 1938 ‘Australian’ team (under the WARU) that toured to Sri Lanka wore green & gold too.

While the national colours are blue/gold, it seems that separate movement of “our national sporting colours” as green/gold emerged in the mid 1920s. I think this followed the wearing of a sprig of wattle during WW1 and the popularising of “Wattle Day” in the 1920s.

SPIRO: Brief history of the quirky colours of the Wallaby jersey

I remember at school our rugby coach persisted over & over in having us watch video replays of that game. To schoolboys the scale & significance of the victory was an almost futile exercise, but his persistence told us it obviously meant something to our rugby. The sight of the bearded Greg Cornelsen has been seared into my brain.

Couldn’t find the tries on youtube but a good clip here as he leaves the field & swaps for a All Blacks jersey

Wallabies to tackle NZ like it's 1978

So pleased to see the new club called Wanderers which taps into & revives a key story from Sydney’s early football history.

The Wanderers played against a number of the city’s rugby clubs in 11-a-side games under Assoc rules in early 1880s.

We wish these modern day Sydney Wanderers all the best!

FFA hoping Wanderers unite football’s history with its future

I would hate to see the drop goal become a lost & forgotten part of the game.

Many talk of what is the true element of the rugby game – some will point to the scrum, others running & passing the ball. But the drop goal is just as much an honoured part of rugby & of why many preferred it to other codes – the goal only counted as it was a valued challenge not easily achieved.

No rugby forward of the late 19th century would be rated at all if he didn’t possess good drop kicking skills.

A drop goal & its 3 points is as much a reward, recognition and outcome from hard won field position as the 3 points from a penalty goal are – and kicking the penalty goal is a damn side easier with a tee, a hushed crowd and no one running at you.

Since the game’s beginnings a goal has not counted if it was simply punted, and I’m convinced it is partly why the crossbar exists at all, and why rugby doesn’t have a round predictable bounce ball – it is the challenge of it all in combination.

To drop an ovoid-shaped ball to the ground on its pointed end & kick it on the rise through posts and over a crossbar is not easy for many of us in a quite moment in the local park. Try it in a rugby international against a rabid opposition forward pack.

Why try to rob the game of its unique varieties? I will always stand & support the drop goal. It reminds us that rugby is a game of many different traits, and not easily defeated team and personal challenges.

Barnes is bringing back the drop goal

Long, long ago, the old famous rally cry to the blue forwards was “‘Feet, Scotland, feet!”. The Scottish forward pack would mass & then dribble the ball forward, crushing over all that dared lay before them. If this heavy weather hits hard it might be a time to bring “‘Feet, Scotland, feet!” back!

Wallabies vs Scotland Test: Live scores, blog

Thanks all for kind words!

Parra – not sure what your point is. If rugby hadn’t been in the ascendant when the time/issue came to pay/compensate footballers, the region could have instead become a bastion for semi pro Aust rules or semi pro soccer – leaving the Hunter like the Riverina where league has been one of two codes in a region of divided loyalties.

When rugby union was king of Newcastle

Thanks Untimely. I agree re your logic about the horse story, but note the crash-tackle is the way it has been handed down in Scotland rugby lore. I’ll leave it to the Scots to sort out!

You can add Snowy Baker to the list of rugby playing boxers (a middleweight). Incidentally, Baker played for Australia in that 1904 test series against Bedell-Sivright’s Lions. As an all round sportsman not too many could rival Baker

When rugby union was king of Newcastle

Where I really get riled up is at stories such as the linked one here in which the soccer dribbling game has assigned to itself the ownership of earlier forms of football, that “rugby” dare not be mentioned (many would sooner point to gridiron than do that!), when the reality is that rugby is the one more akin to how football was in Tudor times

The problem is soccer being taken as “football”, and rugby as “rugby” – so when you read the plaque at Rugby School re Webb Ellis >>> “who with a fine disregard for the rules of football, as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it” >>> the presumption has become that the original form of football was a dribbling game, when in fact it was the other way around….soccer came from a handling form of football/rugby.

The Hunter Valley footballer who revolutionised rugby

Good suggestion Untimely. Of course football at Rugby School with handling rules is older than the 1823 season of Webb Ellis – his distinctive act (putting aside whether it is true or not for the moment) was to run forward with the ball

But, yes, folk & mob football was by nature a carrying & kicking game (& anything else you could imagine to convey a ball, and impossibly by its lack of rules an all foot dribbling game).

The full story can be traced back to the Romans bringing their game “harpastum” to “Brittania” when the Empire extended that far.

Those who say or accept that Webb Ellis picked up the round ball in a soccer game are mistaken – not the least as the FA wasn’t founded til 1863, and even its rules allowed all players handling the ball in its formative decades (to give you an idea perhaps imagine Aust rules on a rectangular pitch, with all running/handling the ball outlawed except the fair catch “mark”, allowing picking up the ball if it is bouncing/rolling, & allowing a few steps to get your kick in).

Soccer is a refined younger form of football. Rugby is the one more akin to the folk/mob form of football of earlier times.

The Hunter Valley footballer who revolutionised rugby

Cheers to all for the positive replies!

The Hunter Valley footballer who revolutionised rugby

Menzies was primarily speaking about Aust rules’ attractions & worth as a spectator sport. From the 1890s (at least) Aust rules officials made it plain that appealing to spectators (current & potential) was an unashamed part of any rule changes & how the game would be played. It’s culture & popularity today as a crowd-drawing spectator sport is testament to that long held approach.

Conversely, Wade’s words are about rugby & its value as a game to play. Nothing to do with a game to watch at all. Wade made that comment in the 1920s when rugby openly boasted it was a players’ game & that the players needs/enjoyment/challenges would drive its laws/changes, & if spectators came to watch rugby, well & good, but that the game wouldn’t be changed to make it better for them or drag more spectators in. It’s no secret that many hold rugby is a far better game to play than to watch.

Anyone interested in some more rugby quotes >

The Hunter Valley footballer who revolutionised rugby

100% in agreement with you Brett.

The only valid counter argument I think anyone could toss up perhaps, in Australia’s case, is declining to consider overseas based players. Totally understand why the ARU & NZRU do that though.

Scotland's 2012 rugby tour down under

If you can find 30 or so rugby players who want to have a go at a game under c1880 rugby laws, I’d be happy to tutor them all! I’m not paying their insurance though!

In Nelson last year there was such a game – possibly not quite I how I would say rugby was played, (e.g. too much passing of the ball) but nevertheless great to see it happening.

The Hunter Valley footballer who revolutionised rugby

Thanks all for the positive comments.

Chris, that day needs to be soon!

The Hunter Valley footballer who revolutionised rugby

Off top my head he was from Singleton too wasn’t he?

The Hunter Valley footballer who revolutionised rugby

I know a few have, but wouldn’t get overly knotted about whether it should be a capped international or not as it arguably won’t be our best 15.

When the Wallabies played NZ in 1905 the latter side was chosen after the selected 27-man “All Blacks” squad had already sailed off to England. (NZ still won that Test match too).

Indeed most touring teams in the amateur era were not comprised of any nation’s “best” players, as many could not tour due to time away from work/family & finances.

In any event, injury is always leading to the awarding of caps to those who may not have otherwise have gained one.

So Tuesday may give us a few “one test wonders” and some future pub trivia questions. It does have its up side!

Scotland's 2012 rugby tour down under

Yeah – they are Wade’s words actually, not mine (not that I disagree with them!). Somehow a quote mark got lost along the way. Should be…

Wade credited rugby for the influence it had upon his personal development, saying he had “played all three games of football —Rugby, Australian, and British Association — and there is no doubt whatever in my mind that rugby was the greatest game, more especially in its educational influence as a builder-up of physique, manliness, and character in young men.”

The Hunter Valley footballer who revolutionised rugby

Excellent post Spiro.

Glad to see Max Howell is still going well. Few would know but Max also contributed plenty to the development of rugby in California & Canada. He is also in the University of British Columbia’s Sports Hall of Fame

Classic Wallabies Test series against Wales coming up

Will be interesting to see how it all evolves. Once 7s profile lifts in the established rugby areas, and it overcomes the perceived “party 7s” image, you could foresee the rise of 7s specific rugby clubs, competitions, supporters & sponsors, and there is no reason to suppose that these will necessarily be simply a swap from 15s, but people/groups not currently involved in rugby at all, beyond being a fan.

Life on the Sevens circuit: an insiders view from Ben Ryan

Congrats jeznez on an excellent read that really identifies some key issues.

Read any rugby book or newspaper story in the 1960s or the decades before, and there is an outright boast from rugby officials that the game is for the players, and if anyone wants to come watch, that’s great, but we won’t be changing our game’s laws to make it more of a spectacle to placate gripes and/or to grab more coin from clicking turnstiles. Heck, in England it wasn’t until the 1970s that clubs were organised into league competitions.

Crowds that attend rugby games are those already bred & raised on rugby – they don’t need an education or explanation. The difficulty is gaining new fans not familiar with the game.

The post 1995 era has brought it with the two competing forces – a game to be played vs a game to be watched (& income-generating). To placate the latter, without damaging the former, is a difficult task.

You don’t want to make law changes that speed up the game or make it too dangerous or physically demanding for the Saturday footballer, otherwise you convert many of your players into non-players & spectators (or as in league to touch/tag footy). We want to guard against making law changes to simplify the game’s understanding in the hope of gaining fans not familiar with rugby.

Chase the coin (new fans) & turn rugby into something else still calling itself rugby, but isn’t. Get it wrong and lose the traditional rugby community.

Maybe the answer is different laws for different levels of the game. Whatever is done you don’t want to rob the game of what gives it its appeal to players (current & former) and those bred on the game.

My view is the game shouldn’t be changed much at all to chase spectators, but effort be made to broaden its understanding to a wider audience to grow its appeal. Only in Australia is the issue of attractiveness impacting on gates and tv ratings, elsewhere the viewer/spectator rolls up in tremendous numbers, but doesn’t come to rugby with that “I’m here, entertain me” attitude.

“I have always been opposed to any tinkering with the rules with a view to making the game more spectacular. Rugby football is a game that requires good solid pluck as a foundation; without that the weak spots will always be found. Nobody wants our game made into a drawing-room one.” — Frank Mitchell – Cambridge, Blackheath, England (6 caps, 1895-96).

Rugby is for the players, not the fans