While the Six Nations may be all anybody can think about at the moment, it’s worth noting that the Super Rugby season is only a month away.
As a result, my post-traumatic stress has started to kick in, and I feel there is a need to address Australian Rugby’s current flux.
2018 is make or break for Australian rugby. Fact or fiction?
Australia’s Rugby Affinity
Rugby is entrenched in the middle class of Australia, if not the country itself. The perfect blend of hyper-aggressive alpha males, dainty pretty-boys and blue-collar heroes makes for a game that many Australians can enjoy and appreciate. With the growing popularity of cricket and AFL, rugby holds a niche position in Australian sports. There’s something about 15 blokes pushing each other that simply resonates.
Maybe it’s also because we were once “good” at it. Australian sporting culture is all about winning in a comprehensive, aggressive manner. Most Australian rugby fans remember those glorious years fondly when Australia was unbeatable. Eales, Gregan, Burke, Larkham. Names that will forever be known as some of the greats of Australian rugby. Now that period is merely a memory.
2017: The Season That Was
It’s easy to forget that in a year of intense politics that ended with Raelene Castle’s appointment as CEO of the ARU that Australia actually played some rugby. I’m not sure if you could find a better definition for “decent” than Australia’s season. Got smashed by the All Blacks once, but that’s now a mere formality. We then pushed them in Dunedin before getting over the line in Brisbane. We drew two games against South Africa, and Israel Folau ate tries for breakfast against Argentina. In the internationals, we lost to Scotland again, which forced Wallabies fans to accept the fact that Scotland are “actually not too bad at rugby”. The other internationals saw us beat Wales, lose to England and beat Japan. If that’s not a perfect example of an “okay” season, then I don’t know what is.
I’d be willing to completely put the ascension to “okay” from what seemed “atrocious” during the Super Rugby season all down to Kurtley Beale. Put simply, his performances this year mirrored the Second Coming of Jesus Christ if he had a silky right boot and an exquisite tactical brain. Yes, Israel Folau scored 12 tries, but he couldn’t have done without Beale. Beale’s game management was almost good enough to mask Bernard Foley’s poor year. Unfortunately, the “Iceman” couldn’t live up to his nickname, and his spot could now be in jeopardy as a result. This after looking to be one of their most important players coming into the season.
We saw a captaincy change which seemed like a formality this year, as Stephen Moore nears the finish line. Michael Hooper, the 7 who could be a 12, is now the captain, which seemed inevitable considering he plays at openside flanker and is quite good in this post-McCaw era. The addition of responsibility seemed to bring his game to a different level, where he regularly was seen tackling and carrying. And of course, our new players this year. The impressive utility back Reece Hodge, NRL convert Marika Koroibete and flankers Jack Dempsey and Lukhan Tui. All of who provided some spark to a lifeless Australian side after being mauled by both the All Blacks and Michael Cheika’s fitness regimes.
The Super Rugby Season of Hell
Speaking of lifeless Australian sides, the Super Rugby has to be talked about. Put simply, 2017 SUPER RUGBY CANNOT HAPPEN AGAIN. If Australian sides go two years without beating a New Zealand side, then we might as well get the coffin ready. There’s talk about new broadcasting deals for SANZAAR. But who will want to broadcast Super Rugby to an Australian fanbase? A fanbase who have quite frankly had enough, particularly should 2018 mirror last year’s shambles.
The Brumbies won 6 games and topped the Australian conference to somehow make the finals due to Super Rugby’s bizarre structure. Putting this in perspective, the Southern Kings won the same amount of games. Only to be cut from Super Rugby. Now this year, surely, an Australian team will win a game of rugby against a New Zealand side. Please.
Time to Shine, Wallabies
Now the Wallabies have to perform. It’s all well and good to have some good players, but Cheika has to get these guys playing as a team as well as figuring out what style of rugby they want to play. But, perhaps, more importantly, they have to reconnect with the Australian public. The disconnection was exposed by Jack Quigley’s legendary Facebook rant.
When I was a kid — hell, even now, I would’ve given my left n*t just to pull on a Wallabies jumper
He, like all Australian fans, have had enough of the Wallabies just being decent.
A Game of Politics
The current view amongst Australia’s diehard fans is that rugby is losing relevancy amongst the general public. Well, not quite true. 2017 was indeed a tumultuous year for Australian rugby which, at times, grabbed a fair share of the limelight. The resignation of Bill Pulver, Israel Folau’s perspective on same-sex marriage and Karmichael Hunt’s drug arrest all made the mainstream media and shed negative light on Australian rugby.
However, the cream on the cake was the Western Force. The saga was spread across six long months for all members of the Western Australia rugby community. The story featured many twists and turns along the way, but not even mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest could stop the Force from being unceremoniously cut by the ARU, who were backed into a corner by SANZAAR and their own errors. Not even a pretty lengthy “Force” chant at the Australia vs South Africa game could change the mind of the ARU. Go figure!
The Community Aspect
Now in the absence of a Super Rugby team to barrack for, the Australian side is all that some West Australians who haven’t been scarred by the saga have left. It’s all any Australian rugby fan has left, considering it’s the only side that beat the Kiwis in 2017. We so desperately want to have an Australian rugby side that we can cheer for and have a managing board that has the best interests of the game at heart. We want to go to bed knowing that half of our country won’t be completely cut off from rugby. The fans need to be able to trust those in charge not to dismember a game that brings us together as one community.
Australian Rugby, namely, Raelene Castle and the ARU, needs to gain back the respect of the Australian rugby community, and indeed, the international community. Please, no more politics. No more controversy. No more mindless decisions. I need an Australian rugby team. World rugby needs an Australian rugby team. Actions have consequences, and if the wrong ones are taken, we could see the destruction of Australian rugby before the next World Cup even starts.
Author: David Lind
I live in Perth, Australia, but am a born and bred Kiwi. I generally spend my time between studies and running the drinks for at my cricket club. My articles on the 1014 allow me to let out my rugby feelings online rather than at my mates.