For those of you suffering from extreme Gell Mann Amnesia, may I offer an alternate take to those currently filling the column inches in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, the Financial Review?
The first and most obvious misconception to refute is, “It’s Eddie’s fault”. Of course it’s not, you idiot; he’s just the last in the lengthy chain of incompetents. Which fool would think a Hail Mary act of firing the head coach and bringing back a previous failure would work?
Oh, hello Peter Fitzsimons……
Structurally, this year Rugby Australia pinned its hopes on Eddie Jones. Backed by commentators like me, RA reasoned that with Eddie having a World Cup record second to none, it was a no-brainer to bring him back.
“No brainer” is doing lot more work in that sentence than the author probably intended.
Why is it not Eddie’s fault? Because he played the hand that was dealt to him. The national team is a distillation of the best the nation can offer….. and therein lies the problem. The Australian rugby talent pool isn’t just shallow, it’s Lake Eyre-esque. Pundits criticised Jones for only taking one recognised Fly Half. He’d be excused if the primary reason was because he didn’t feel the remaining candidates were worth the investment in the Qantas ticket.
Australian rugby didn’t get here overnight. This has been a 2 decade long problem and the fix will take at least half as long to make a difference.
Some background; I have been coaching junior rugby, boys and girls teams, for the last 10 years. Let’s do the maths; 2 training sessions a week, sometimes doubling up and running two teams consecutively in an evening, at least 3 fixtures on the weekends, 6 months a year. At a conservative guesstimate, I’ve invested 1,500 hours of my life trying to teach kids how to play rugby. I’m now coaching a men’s XV and a women’s 7s squad.
I can count the number of occasions we’ve had assistance from Rugby Australia on the fingers of one hand, and two of those were when David Campese helped coach and I don’t think he’s even affiliated with the Rugby Australia development programme – it was just him volunteering!
For a while, there was a single development officer for NSW who we saw once or twice, but he was made redundant just after Izzy Folau was paid his severance money for quoting the bible on Instagram.
Of course, in the meantime, NRL and AFL have been pumping money into the junior clubs. Free t-shirts, development training weekends, gala days, bouncy castles, etc.
Not content with simply not helping, Australian rugby seems to go out of its way to fuck itself over. Ask any junior club member what happens when the boys reach school Year 7.
Spoiler alert: half of them head off to private school and are told they must play school rugby, not club rugby. Let me clarify; the club rugby matches are on Sunday, the school rugby matches are on Saturday. They are told NOT TO PLAY on Sunday. Imagine paying $30,000 a year in school fees to be told how you can spend your Sunday morning. Obviously, the result is a hollowing out of the junior club teams after the U11s/12s, many of which simply fold and the remaining boys head off to the welcoming biceps of Rugby League.
Nearly every rugby pitch in NSW is council-owned. At some point in the last 20 years, the pencil-pushers in the Town Halls decided sport can’t be played in the rain. So, every weekend, rugby coaches wake up and nervously check the “wet weather line” for updates with the vague hope a winter sport can be played in wintery conditions. We’re lucky we haven’t yet witnessed the sight of players questioning Wayne Barnes’ decision to continue matches when the Wallabies get wet in Cardiff or Wellington. They’ve all grown up being told to play Xbox when the forecast is damp.
Local club men’s rugby has a loyal following. A club I coached at had a team playing just below Shute Shield level, the turnout for home matches was great and the atmosphere was huge fun. Barely any of those fans would ever bother to trek to Moore Park to watch the Waratahs, however, not even once a year.
That’s the disconnect epitomised. There is a fire break between local rugby and the elite level. Where and when did it happen? Go back up this article and read about school Year 7.
Rugby Australia is the ultimate Old Boys network. It’s hilarious really, because you’d think that would be the case in England not Australia, but it’s reversed. English rugby is far more egalitarian and merit-based these days. Rugby Australia HQ, meanwhile, is a sheltered workshop for the chinless and the gormless, by which I mean the alumni of Joey’s, Shore, Riverside, Kings, and Knox.
Failed in the City? Have no experience in sports administration? Have no idea what lies at the western end of the Parramatta Road? Played in the Shore First XV 20 years ago? Well, you’re perfectly qualified to be the latest mediocre incumbent in an office that’s witnessed some of Australia’s finest examples of human mediocrity.
How many times is that experiment going to be run with the expectation of a different result? Just. Stop. Doing. That.
Just like, if you want to be Prime Minister, you should be barred from the job; if you went to a GPS school, you should not be allowed to step inside Rugby House. Go away and coach a local junior club out west for 5 years and then we’ll consider your application.
The Australian national rugby team has been on a staggering downward run since 2003. Yes, they got to a world cup final in 2015, but they were all as surprised and stunned as the rest of us at that, it was completely against the multi-year run of form. In fact, it probably had the negative effect of convincing the Eastern Suburbs all was well and just a few minor tweaks were required.
Global rugby needs a strong Australia as a role model. It stopped being funny to watch Australia losing a long time ago.
Time for an intervention; postpone the next British and Irish Lions tour, send them to New Zealand in 2025 and give Australia the option for 2029, but only if they have returned to credibility.
Rugby Australia needs a shock to the system.
(Regular readers may have wondered where I’d gone. It’s a secret!)