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When is an Aussie really an Aussie?

Ben Ryan, the English coach of the Fijian rugby sevens gold medal winning team at the Rio Olympics, caused quite a stir recently with his caustic observations of how the Pacific Islands were being effectively ‘stripped’ by the major rugby union powers.

Geoff,

EFF is channelling Gough – maintain the rage. Nothing wrong with that. Those responsible for shafting the Force shouldn’t be left in peace. Not for a moment.

ARU tried to pretend the Force culling didn’t happen by changing their name to RA. But everyone knows ARU & RA are the one & same.

Nah, those treasonous so-&-so’s deserve no peace at all.

Western Force back in the fold after accepting place in domestic Super Rugby

Jeznez,

As a “nationalist” since the early 70s when I first heard about the Wallaby Trophy, I am over the moon.

The A section of the Wallaby Trophy in the early 70s comprised Queensland, Sydney, NSW Country & Victoria.

For the record, ACT separated from NSW Country at the end of 1974, & became a separate entity in their own right in 1975.

A national comp in 2020 comprising Queensland, NSW, ACT, Victoria & WA trumps this by a country mile.

Yes, baby steps. Any player who wants to leave can go. We can rebuild the game from the ground up with those who want to stay & be part of the rebuild.

Western Force back in the fold after accepting place in domestic Super Rugby

Micko,

My memory of JON, is that he was so peeved off with how he was booted out in his 1st term, that he played it straight second time around, balancing the books & not much more.

I didn’t pay as much attention as TWAS apparently, so I’m not going to contest him on this with a faulty memory.

The global season: Who wins a contest of good intentions versus self interest?

Micko,
Sports people will always be attracted to pay for play. NZ actually started league before Australia, but the NZRU were far more proactive in helping their rugby players.
And they didn’t mind bending, or breaking if/when necessary, the strict amateurism rules of the home unions.
Like I said, smart people told the home unions what they wanted to hear, while they went about doing what was necessary for them to survive & succeed.

The global season: Who wins a contest of good intentions versus self interest?

Brett,

I really don’t care about the rest of the world, especially the northern hemisphere.

While the south have made many mistakes, the north have no empathy if the game shrinks back to them.

It’s interesting, I’m re-reading articles from a collector’s edition of Australian Rugby Review magazine, 1992-2001.

When SANZAR signed its firs t 10 year TV rights deal with Murdoch in 1996, worth AU$770 million or US$555 million, there were plenty of smart people back then who doubted if the deal was a s good as the pundits were saying.

25 years later, with the benefit of hindsight, it went like a bell curve, up & up before flattening, & then plummeting. Of course, a large part of that was greed on the part of SANZAR & its member unions, chasing increasingly unrealistic revenue streams.

Another part was the restrictive structures SANZAR signed up to & never attempted to change, like no free to air TV. And in Australia, 95% of the revenue earned going to the players & staff from the 3 provinces.

So, while your article concentrated on the world picture, I was merely pointing out Australia’s sins. And boy, there are many.

The global season: Who wins a contest of good intentions versus self interest?

Brett,

Damnation is coming to Australian rugby, & it pretty much only has itself to blame.

And the problems predate professionalism, going right back to the union/league split of 1907/08.

A former shift boss of mine once explained his philosophy regarding management: “You tell them (management) what they want to hear, but you (the crew) then do what you need to do”.

Eminently sensible.

Back in 1907/08, when players were grieving over ‘broken time’ payments, that is, being paid an allowance for rep footy into the country, interstate or overseas, & also medical insurance cover, the ruling bodies at the time refused to bend for fear of upsetting the home unions.

According to sports historian Sean Fagan, league would have happened no matter what. But had the MRU (Sydney) been more sensitive to players’ concerns, union would not have lost so many players so quickly, or so consistently, to league.

“Only tell them what they want to hear”. That’s certainly how they handled things across the channel in France, in South Africa, in New Zealand, & even next door in Wales. Let the British hierarchy hear what they want to hear: “Yep, we’re clean, we’re amateur”, but then do everything necessary to keep the best players in the game for as long as possible.

SA & NZ imaginatively & proactively used their wealthy & influential ‘captains of industry & government’ rugby lovers to provide key players with income streams without paying them directly for playing rugby.

Australia did not. Then there was the matter of developing the game nation wide. Australian administrators had this curious attitude of each state developing at their own steam, & under their own resources.

Just imagine how much stronger Australian rugby would have been, had we had the 5 provinces, all more or less equal to each other, back in 1995, instead of playing catch-up these past 25 years.

Imagine???

In 1996, SANZAR, as it was then, agreed to a $555 million deal with News Ltd, or Murdoch Press, that seemed attractive on the surface, but was designed to suit Murdoch’s business ambition far more than any long-term good it would do for southern hemisphere rugby.

As the years rolled by, & the suffocating restrictions on southern hemisphere structure became slowly obvious, SANZAR found themselves powerless to break free from their media suffocation.

Then John O’Neill, love or loathe him, told the ARU board & constituents to put the $45 million earned from the 2003 rugby world cup, away in a safe place for a “rainy day”.

“Bugger that”, they thundered in return, & to show their reckless intent, that entire money had disappeared by 2007, just 4 years later.

And much more besides. So, here we are, in 2020 Australian rugby is broken but it seems, not quite broken enough.

And no-one else to blame but themselves…..

The global season: Who wins a contest of good intentions versus self interest?

Carlos,

Of course! I originally wrote Hugo, then decided to change to Porta, but forgot about changing the ‘o’ to ‘a’.

That’s my excuse, & I’m sticking to it!

Professional rugby is not the problem

Carlos,

Cheers!

1979 1st test won by Pumas 24-13, two tries each. Two tries to Madero, 3 drops by Porto.

1979 2nd test, won by Wallabies 17-12, 3 tries to one.

Professional rugby is not the problem

Muglair,

Lordy says he likes me, although I think for one reason or another he’s running out of friends. He’s never been the same since he lost his son to drugs, which predates me meeting him, although I’ve known him on & off for a decade.

The reason why I say he likes me, is to point out that despite this, he remains incredibly secretive.

For example, if I call him up for a coffee or lunch, he will meet me at the venue. Even though he doesn’t get around as sprightly as he used to (he’s 81 this year), he is loathe for me, or anyone else it seems, to know where he lives.

Which leads me to the second point, despite several cheeky inquiries as to the identity of the 208 players he signed way back in 1983, he just chuckles at me & shakes his head.

That is info I would love to have purely for my own satisfaction. I reckon any dedicated rugby fan from the early to mid 1980s could quite easily name 3/4s of those signatories, perhaps 80-90%.

But the last 5-6 or so names for each country would be toughest. So far Lordy is determined to take the secret with him.

Professional rugby is not the problem

Geoff,

The most instructive thing I have taken from this post, is Colin Slade’s observation about the 48 week grind of French club rugby. There’s the point of difference for southern hemisphere rugby. Exploit that!

While a lot of people think that money is the most important thing in life, fortunately there are a lot more people who believe in a work/play lifestyle balance.

Perhaps one benefit of this coronavirus, is that it has made people realise that while money is necessary, it’s not the absolute deliverance of every answer to one’s life. There are many other important things to life besides money.

Let’s say Australian rugby develops an 8 team (eventually) national comp of 14 weeks of home & away games, plus two semi-finals & a final. That’s a total of 59 games to offer TV media outlets.

Not much, but it would be part of a bigger basket also containing internationals & club rugby, plus cross-overs with other southern hemisphere countries.

Now for the aspiring professional & regular Wallaby in Australia, he can play maybe 3-4 pre-season matches, 14-16 national comp matches, maybe (if included) 3-5 Champion’s Club matches & 10 tests.

That’s a range of 30-35 matches, assuming he remains fit & in form & plays every match, & his province also makes the final of every comp. If players want to take the big money & burn themselves out, let them go.

The whole point of the Australian scene is to provide a work/play balance that doesn’t suck the enjoyment out of the sport. The Aussie rugby player can begin each season much more refreshed than his northern hemisphere compatriots.

Of course, the big question is whether Australian rugby can ever get its house in order. They can also forget about any help from World Rugby. This organisation is wedded to the old order – the six nations & European club rugby.

Any pretence to developing the game outside this narrow enclave is just that, a pretence.

So there’s Australian rugby’s point of difference. Let those players who want to chase the big money, & flog themselves senseless doing so, go. Australian rugby will provide a work/play lifestyle balance that helps prolong the body & enthusiasm of rugby players.

The Wrap: Giteau’s Law must survive, but with a twist

Muglair,

It’s instructive that Mark Ella’s NSW career went from 1979-84. I don’t think he missed any more than one match (if any). I don’t know how many matches his brothers played.

Queensland dominated the period 9-3, so the message should have been clear to NSW, it didn’t matter how brilliant your backline was, if you couldn’t provide them with regular, good possession.

After the 1980 series against the ABs, Ella boasted that the Wallabies could beat anybody with only 40% clean possession.

What Ella didn’t say, is that while you can do that some of the time, even half the time, you won’t be able to do it all the time. Oppositions soon wise-up, & the most successful teams have to be flexible in their tactics.

Being flexible in your tactics also means a high skill level across all the elements of the game.

If you look at Aussie rugby circa 1978-84, both the conservative Qld style & razzamatazz Randwick style were successful, but sadly, the Wallabies failed to develop a skill level that allowed them to transfer from on style to the other as circumstances required.

They also too often picked the wrong players, who were too wedded to one style or another. I guess Ella is part of this criticism.

Professional rugby is not the problem

Max Power,
Do you think so? Lordy had some serious health issues in these past 5-10 years that may possibly have affected him.
This is the guy who started Rugby News at suburban grounds in the early 1970s; edited many editions of the Australian rugby yearbook; started up monthly mags in both rugby & cricket; was perhaps one of our first regular player agents, representing players in cricket, golf, tennis & swimming; captained Mosman 1st grade cricket team & was given the scoop on WSC by Kerry Packer, before a betrayal by his own Channel 7 soured the relationship.
And much more. Oh yes, in 1983 he had the signatures of 213 rugby players from 8 countries, plus a coach, manager & at least one ref from each of these countries. Only the inability to get a TV deal prevented him from having the first pro rugby comp.
If Lord was awful, I don’t know what it says about the rest of us do-nothings.

Professional rugby is not the problem

Muglair,
For a long time I didn’t understand why Ella didn’t start the series, but apparently he was out of form, struggling in the conditions.
The most in-form 3/4s were Moon (of course, always Mr Reliable) & Slack, also usually reliable but conservative.
Tempo had the option of pushing McLean to fullback (sadly leaving Gould out) & reuniting the midfield of Ella, Hawker & O’Connor, & hoping they could help each other into form.
I guess it’s a case damned if you do, & damned if you don’t. But of course, it didn’t matter who was at #10, because the Wallabies’ couldn’t control possession from line outs especially.
Ella, Hawker & O’Connor only played 4 times together as 10, 12 & 13 (3 times vs ABs in 1980 & once against France in 1981). It’s almost criminal they were seen so infrequently together.

Professional rugby is not the problem

Muglair,
I look at this tour regularly, which is why I am able to speak about it quite a bit.
I try to think, what could have been done differently without the benefit of hindsight. Of course, we’re all geniuses with hindsight, but what could the selectors & management have done differently with what they knew at the time.
You didn’t require hindsight to figure more tall timber was required in the touring party. This was the team’s achilles’ heel.
The selectors knew every British team had tall & heavy locks, plus solid & competent front rows. Tempo, perhaps surprisingly, was happy to play a more expansive game, but incredibly, he seems to have fallen into the Randwick trap. At least at the selection table.
That is, he/they picked arguably the most stunning collection of Wallaby backline players up to that time, but failed to provide them with a tight five that would ensure good, regular possession.
All three tests that were lost, was because the Wallabies couldn’t control possession at critical times, when leading against both Wales & Scotland, & when they needed to overcome England with just one score (converted try).
The opposition simply booted the ball downfield for territory, & when the inevitable penalties came, kicked the goals to sink the Wallabies.
Alternately Paul McLean, had he kicked his goals, would have seen the Wallabies win the grand slam. But this would have been wrong because the team exhibited a horrible weakness at the set piece, especially line outs.
Two things played havoc with the Wallabies. The most critical was injury to their most exciting back Mick O’Connor, who missed the middle tests through injury. Also Mike Hawker spent some time on the sidelines, as did Gary & Glen Ella, as well as veteran halfback John Hipwell.
Mark Ella struggled with his footwork to find form in the wet, sluggish conditions. This was the other problem, it being a wetter & colder British winter than usual.
But the Wallabies’ management would have known all about the potential weather problems, it’s likely interference, the softer grounds & the need to train & play appropriately to the conditions, to avoid leg & knee injuries.
The selectors chose a poor team eventually. They picked these outstanding backs but failed to provide them with the necessary forward power to adapt to the conditions as they developed.
It was like sending a magnificent warship off to sea without any ammunition for all its firepower! In rugby, if you can’t control your possession, then more often than not, you will die.

Professional rugby is not the problem

Muglair,
I got to know David Lord quite well. A very interesting character who deserved far more respect than what he got when he wrote for The Roar. The way he was treated was quite disgraceful.
Anyway, Lord did say to me there was a Qld/NSW rift in the 1981/82, & his accusations were widely publicised at the time, especially by Rex Mossop on his program, where Lord had a rugby & cricket slot.
In later recounting, I accepted what he said, although I had my own doubts. After further thought, I doubt there were serious problems between the Qlders & NSWmen.
The real problem lay elsewhere. Firstly, a lack of one, probably two tall men in the 2nd & back rows. Secondly, confusion over the game tactics. It didn’t matter if McLean or Ella started at #10. What was necessary was a clearly defined tactical plan. I don’t think this was properly articulated.

Professional rugby is not the problem

JD Kiwi,

In France they paid players under the table. Anything they could get away with from the English toffs, the better.

The French were banned from international rugby 1932 until the outbreak of WW2. Post-war, & it wasn’t any better, but I guess the IRB decided they needed the French as long as they didn’t make their indiscretions too obvious!

In SA & NZ, there was an excellent network of successful, wealthy businessmen who were prevailed upon to look after important current & promising future internationals. This system was put in place in the early days & continued throughout the amateur era.

Unfortunately, rugby in Australia was never strong enough to develop a similar network.

Professional rugby is not the problem

Busted Fullback,
Stan Pilecki had a building business, being a builder &/or carpenter himself. John Meadows came from Vic to Qld in 1982, partly for rugby, & also join his mate Pilecki’s business. Meadows was himself a builder.
Pilecki initially pulled out of the 1982 tour, but ended up going over as a replacement for the last 2 weeks.
Meadows also initially made himself unavailable, probably in deference to his boss, but Pilecki gave him the green light to tour, & he did.
Yeah, it was tough being an amateur. It would have been okay if the players got what they originally wanted. That is, reasonable remuneration for rep duty away from home, be it interstate or overseas.
It’s implausible to reconcile why such a reasonable request was continually refused by short-sighted, self-serving administrators.

Professional rugby is not the problem

KFTD,
Not quite, Mick O’Connor scored one try, Gould the other two, while McLean kicked 8 from 8 on a murky day but sparkling day for the Wallabies.
In the curtain raiser, some young guy called David Campese ran riot against the Junior ABs, scoring one try & being involved in all of the other 4 tries. That night he was announced in the senior touring team.
I am so glad I always liked to watch the curtain raiser gamecock in those days. On this occasion, I saw greatness announcing itself.

Professional rugby is not the problem

Muglair,

So many things to respond to, it’s difficult to know where to start, so maybe with your last para: “Being an amateur player was not sustainable in 1980 and if there was to be an elite rugby game in Australia in 2020 it had to become professional”.

Yes indeed. The outstanding sports historian Sean Fagan (who used to write for this site until he got sick of the know-alls) said that the professional rugby league breakaway of 1907/08 was an event that was always going to happen.

Sydney was a rough & tough town, with folk who wanted to play their sport also wanting to be remunerated for rep time away from home.

Backtrack a little more recently, & the creation of WSC in 1977 was a direct barb against blinkered administrators who failed to understand the changing dynamics. Players were appearing in more tests & touring more often, but expected to be happy to continue living off the ‘smell of an oily rag’.

Their arrogance was outstanding. Then the super league civil war of 1995 tipped both rugby codes into full professionalism.

But back to 1981/82, this period continually irks me because a potentially great team was stymied in part by the short-sightedness of its own coaches & administrators.

Firstly, the selection of the team. Tempo tried desperately to get freakish line out jumper David Hillhouse to tour, but he declined, being at a delicate stage (building up his flying hours) in his path to becoming a commercial airline pilot.

The second mistake was not picking the giant Keith Besomo. Besomo had returned to WA a broken man. He had toured France in 1976, NZ in 1978 & Fiji in 1980, but played just one test against Ireland in 1979.

He was also selected to tour Argentina in 1979 before a lengthy club suspension saw him replaced. The selectors should have turned heaven & earth to get Besomo fit for the tour, & continue his fitness on tour.

Don Price should also have gone, with his height providing extra cover, especially in the mid-week games. It would have been bad luck for both Peter Lucas & Duncan Hall, but the Wallabies lacked serious height at the line out.

Playing skipper Tony Shaw in the 2nd row only compounded this problem. I also don’t know why Andy McIntyre wasn’t considered ready to tour in late 1981 considering he debuted in NZ less than 12 months later.

But the scrum was okay, while the line out was the millstone around the team’s neck. Then there was the captaincy issue. Even before the team left Australia, there were serious concerns that neither Paul McLean & especially Tony Shaw were certain first choice selections.

Okay, they could have toured as tour captain & vice-captain. but most certainly, under different circumstances, the test captaincy would have fallen to Mark Loane.

Tempo’s coaching was also a problem. While one of nature’s outstanding human beings, the intricacies of the problems facing him, overwhelmed him.

Both Tempo & Dwyer would find that what worked for them at Queensland & Randwick would not be enough in the test arena. Tempo discovered that while the forward based conservative Qld game worked a treat at provincial level, the Wallabies needed to ask the opposition defence more questions with more invigorating attack.

Yes, the Wallabies scored 8 tries to 3 in 4 internationals in the UK & Ireland in 1981/82. But they didn’t deserve to win with McLean missing so many kicks. A team that can’t control its own possession, or win enough clean possession, has too many faults to be successful, like winning a grand slam.

Then in 1982 Dwyer found out quickly that the Randwick club game doesn’t translate automatically to the test arena. You might be able to get away with 40% possession in club rugby with a brilliant backline, but at test level you still need to win 50% regularly to impose your will on the opposition.

These were hard lessons for both Tempo & Dwyer, & their advocates, to learn. Then in the 1990s, Dwyer & Tempo were reunited with the Wallabies & successful, having both learnt from their lessons in the early 1980s.

Back to why 9 players pulled out in 1982. You correctly pointed out a 3 month tour of the UK & Ireland in 1981/82, followed by a 7 week tour of NZ in 1982, was way too much.

Indeed, the wonder isn’t that 9 players withdrew, but another 18 guys were still able to make both tours!

Mark Loane, Tony Shaw, Paul & Peter McLean never played for Australia again. Brothers-in-law Shaw & Peter McLean tried again in 1983 but without success.

Brendan Moon, Bill Ross & Stan Pilecki reappeared for the Wallabies in 1983. Youngsters Mick O’Connor & Tony D’Arcy also never played for Australia again.

Both cried off that they were struggling university students, but what was unknown to the wider rugby community was that both had signed to play rugby league in 1983 & were undoubtedly protecting their bodies from picking up a potentially serious unwanted injury.

Professional rugby is not the problem

Corne,

De Beers diamonds artificial scarcity/de Beers diamonds artificial scarcity/ de Beers diamonds artificial scarcity. How many times must we chant the mantra? Less is more. Less is better.

SANZAAR were so full of themselves they completely ignored the info they were receiving & attempted to ram what they wanted down the TV viewers’ throats. TV sports fans are truly gullible, but only up to a point.

They will eventually see the folly. Even if it takes much longer than I would say is reasonable. And turning off this stupid super rugby required a virus pandemic to bring people to their senses.

And I agree with you – South African teams only belong in the Currie Cup.

We had the Fijian Drua in our NRC, which wasn’t much of a fuss anyway, since the NRC turned out to be a bit of a joke.

But if we have a national comp anytime soon – it must include Aussie teams only. Plus mostly Aussie qualified players, without the mercenaries if that can be managed.

The future of SANZAAR

Jez,
We’ll have to agree to disagree.
I’m quite comfortable with my position. If you don’t understand, then either I haven’t explained myself properly, or you don’t want to understand, both propositions being plausible.
Ultimately, I don’t give a stuff, except if this exercise is going to be kept as a historical record, it’s a shame the people who voted didn’t put a bit more thought into their choices.
Jeremy Paul is a fine player, but he should not have been chosen ahead of players who were more often preferred to him (Kearns & Foley) as first choice hooker. Ditto TPN on the bench (often 2nd choice hooker to Moore).
I think it was the Roman historian Livy who said so long ago with such prescience: “We are hostage to our sources”. How very true.
As an amateur rugby historian, the more I read & cross-reference sources, to my dismay the more discrepancies I find in relation to the ability of players from the past.
Confirmation bias is alive & well. History should be as accurate as far as possible, which is why I’m being anal about this.
It makes you wonder how much of what we read from history is truly accurate, it really does.

The greatest Wallabies team of the Super Rugby era, as voted by you

Zado,

I don’t even know why you mentioned Kefu, as he is in a different posse to Elsom. So clearly, you didn’t read my original post properly.

The greatest Wallabies team of the Super Rugby era, as voted by you

Jeznes,

Your 10s & 4s analogy is absurd. Sure, good & better players come along all the time.

You could argue that for the past 15 years the Wallabies have been full of 4s because they were the best we have.

But in relation to Paul, the premise is absurd. Behind Paul are two players voted who often forced him onto the bench – Kearns & Foley.

Neither Kearns nor Foley, nor Moore for that matter, are 4s. They are all better alternatives to Paul.

Like I said, if this passes as legitimate thinking among Aussie rugby folk, then no wonder we’re in the gutter.

The greatest Wallabies team of the Super Rugby era, as voted by you

Jez,

See my response to Zado re Elsom.

Coming off the bench has inflated the number of test caps of too many players. To find out who was #1, see how many times a guy started a match.

This hasn’t changed whether it’s 2020, 2000, 1975, 1950, 1925 or 1900.

Paul was first choice hooker in less than half his test appearances. Take away his bench run-ons, & his test appearances would plummet from 72 to 34.

How can you pick a guy to be the best hooker of the pro era, who wasn’t even the best hooker in a majority of his test appearances?

If this is an example of the kind of logic prevalent in Australian rugby today, then it is no wonder we’re in the gutter.

The greatest Wallabies team of the Super Rugby era, as voted by you

Zado,

It’s not my argument. Please read again carefully.

Elsom ranked 3rd (21%) among selections by Roarers, for the blindside position behind Finegan (29%) & Smith (27%, who got the opendside anyway). But in terms of starting a match, Elsom’s record of 73/2 is superior to Finegan’s 34/21.

I also said from a technical point, Finegan’s selection made sense because he provided a 4th jumper.

The greatest Wallabies team of the Super Rugby era, as voted by you