The Lessons We Must Learn From 2016 - Green and Gold Rugby
National Rugby Championship

The Lessons We Must Learn From 2016

The Lessons We Must Learn From 2016

Australian rugby, we need to talk. 2016 was an absolute shocker. The team struggled. The media was ruthless. The fans called for the heads of the coach and players. Club rugby is in open revolt. And, no matter where you looked, everyone seemed to think that the game is dying in this country.

Well, enough is enough! It’s time for a bit of perspective. In the greater scheme of things, was this year REALLY that bad? I know some may roll their eyes at that question, but seriously think about it for a minute. We are currently sitting in third in the despite being far from our best (which I think is reasonably accurate considering the closeness of the game between us and 4th placed Ireland, and our victories over everyone else below them).

With this disaster of a year coming to a close, I felt it seemed appropriate to sit down and have a little chat about rugby in this country. Why? Because this year has many lessons for us to take away:

THE ARU

I’ll start with the punching bag of many fans criticism: the ARU. While it would easy to beat on them some more, it would be hypocritical to not recognise some of the positive things they have done. What exactly? Well, investing in World Sevens, the fastest growing game in the world makes sense, and Australia has been improving every single year in Sevens. Add in the NRC, which has been responsible for over sixty players being signed to Super Rugby, and a dozen more players pulling on the gold jersey. Australian rugby now has a clear pathway from club rugby to the Wallabies. And it’s been starting to pay dividends (the French game anyone?).

Bill Pulver - Credit ARU Media - Karen Watson (1)

Bill Pulver fronts the media during the launch of the NRC. Photo by ARU Media (Karen Watson)

But I’ll happily admit there is a lot of justification for them being that punching bag of criticism, and I don’t blame fans for being angry at them. The treatment of club rugby by the ARU has been downright disrespectful over the last few years. From the lack of funding, to Pulver’s comments that club rugby will “piss [money] up against the wall.” From an administrative perspective, creating disconnect between you and your grassroots supporters borders on being crazy! Not only that, but as a business, the ARU has done a terrible job. Apart from the British and Irish Lions tour in 2013, every financial year this decade has seen the ARU finish in the red.

The lesson here: The ARU must look to mend barriers next year. Whether it will be done or not is anyone’s guess, but rugby cannot improve without the full support of those who play the fifteen man game. It’s time for the ARU to cut the crap, and work with club rugby.

THE TEAM

Michael Cheika oversees the warmup - Photo by Keith McInnes

It’s been an even worse year for Michael Cheika. – Photo by Keith McInnes

God, they had a tough year. But I will be honest: I think Cheika is the man to take us to 2019. I know a lot of people will disagree, but you cannot deny Cheika is passionate about the Wallabies. Not only that, but he has the support of the players, and he commands respect. That is a far cry from the Deans/McKenzie eras, where players were getting in trouble all the time, and were the gossip of typical media news fodder. Also, we have seen what Cheika can do with this Wallaby squad. When their confidence is up, they beat ANYONE.

But Cheika needs to learn there’s a time to be passionate, and a time to be professional. There has been a complaint about “Whinging Wallabies” this year, and it’s no secret that Cheika is not a good loser. Losing drives him to make the Wallabies better, but also shows his ugly side when he takes pot shots at the referees and the press. Honestly, he’s shooting himself in the foot. No wonder the refs don’t like us if we have consistently accused them of being biased.  And the crap coaches and players get from the Press is something that they cannot control. What I think this year taught us is Cheika is human, and was complacent. He may be our national coach, but he will learn a lot from this year.

The players had it tough too. They are often the face of fan and press criticism. They represent us on the field. It’s fair to assume they suffered from complacency too after 2015’s World Cup campaign. When you start the season off in such as resoundingly negative way as being white-washed by England at home, it is hard to get confidence back. If there is one thing the players suffered from for the rest of the year, it is a lack of confidence. Yet, even despite a tough year, the Wallabies still retained the Mandela Plate against South Africa, the Puma Trophy against Argentina, the James Bevan Trophy against Wales and the Hopetoun Cup against Scotland, while winning back the Trophée des Bicentenaires from the French. But it said a lot to me when the players held up the Puma Trophy, and none looked happy. Despite winning those games, it is still not enough to restore faith for the fans.

Wallabies players posing with the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate

Wallabies players posing with the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate

I’m not excusing this team for bad performances (of which there has been plenty of this year). But they are human, and it is not hard to see how much the criticism has hurt them this year. Yes, you should be critical of a bad performance, but when players like Dean Mumm and Stephen Moore actually played well, they still got the same barrage of complaints from people asking them to be cut from the squad.

The lesson here: start next year with a clean slate. Give them a chance. Support them! Yes, that sounds like a cop out, but then again, it’s so common for us to want results, and want them NOW. Those results won’t come overnight when a third of your squad has only just started their international careers. But, judging by our win at Stade de France with a young squad, those good results are going to come.

GRASSROOTS RUGBY

The 2016 Shute Shield Launch. Photo by nswrugby.com.au

The 2016 Shute Shield Launch. Photo by nswrugby.com.au

 

Everything is not well in rugby’s heartlands, or more specifically, Sydney. We owe a lot to grassroots rugby, especially in Queensland and NSW. Rugby in this country wouldn’t exist without those clubs. I have friends who have played for Manly, Gordon and even in the premiership winning Northern Suburbs club this year.  The lack of funding has hurt them. Less sign ups have hurt them. And they’ve got a bone to pick with the ARU.

But, I’m willing to argue that there are few other places in world rugby would you have something like this occur. In New Zealand and RSA Rugby, the game is much more centralised, with clubs knowing they are part of development pathway in the growth of players. Even Queensland rugby has this. But in Sydney, the Shute Shield operates independently of the NSWRU, and because of that, they are now starting to challenge the ARU directly. One of the most notable things they have started to do is go after the NRC, having threatened to create their own rogue national competition, and even put back the Shute shield grand final so it clashes with the first round of the NRC.

NRC Launch

The NRC: a competition now in the sights of NSW and QLD club rugby. Photo by ARU Media

In all honesty, it’s embarrassing to the game. Sydney Club rugby has good grounds to be angry at the ARU, and they have already been very accommodating to allow the NRC into the rugby calendar. But to NOW threaten that infrastructure that is now starting to bear a lot of fruit for Australian (and, from next year, Fijian) rugby is borderline counterproductive and destructive for the game overall. This is even more the case considering the NRC experienced a 23% increase in TV viewership per game this year, and a 10% increase in attendances. People are slowly starting to take notice.

The lesson here: It’s time for club rugby and the ARU to recognise each other’s point of view, be prepared to compromise, and look beyond their own agendas to consider the health of the game overall. There have been signs of progress between club rugby and the NSWRU, courtesy of new Tahs boss Andrew Hore. But this is a relationship must be mended, because if it is not it will only be negative for Australian rugby overall.

THE FANS

Fans this year have not been afraid to speak their minds. In crowd numbers and viewership, we have let the ARU and the players know that this year was not good enough.  Not only that, but our mindset has become decidedly cynical and critical. Stop and think for a moment. Is this what happens when we lose games? Touching on Cheika being a bad loser, I would go further to say Australians in general are terrible losers.

Photo by Keith McInnes

There certainly haven’t been many days like this for fans this year! (Photo by Keith McInnes)

But it’s not like we’re good winners either. How disrespectful was it that some in the media viewed our win against Scotland as “poor”, despite a great match. What a disservice to a great Scottish team! Or how in 2015 when we beat the All Blacks, immediately Aussie fans were gloating about our first All Blacks victory in FOUR BLOODY YEARS! It’s not like we’re the only bad winners though. Kiwis fans all year have provided many wonderful online examples of how to win badly. But at least they can lose with dignity (the few times they do lose) and admit they were outplayed by the Irish.

The lesson here: we need to remember why we love this game. We need to stop thinking negatively, and escape the mindset that rugby is dying in this country. With the hundreds of thousands of people who play and watch our game, it’s pretty clear to me that this game isn’t going anywhere soon. Above all, we must learn to win with grace and lose with dignity, and afford our opposition the same respect.

****

It’s time for ALL of us to consider this questions: what do I value most about the game? Let’s put aside the heartache of this year, and let 2017 be the year when everyone in Australian rugby works together for the same goal of growing the game. We’re all on the same side, after all!

 

 

  • harro

    Thanks Nick, you touched on some important issues and I agree with everything you wrote. After the form of the Women’s 7s, the most exciting thing for me this year was the NRC. I wasn’t initially a fan as I felt we were throwing away over 100 years of tradition (who does that? Other sports try to manufacture tradition because they know how important it is) by not including the clubs, but I can already see the benefits that are coming to the higher levels of Aussie rugby and that will only increase in years to come. The ARU still needs to support the clubs, though, and let them know they are an important piece of the puzzle. Prior to professionalism the clubs were the only things keeping rugby alive in Australia. For 100 years. That needs to be recognised. Club rugby is where all things that attracted most of us to rugby in the first place still actually exist.

    Thanks for all your writing during the year. It has been tough but there have been some wonderful moments too. That first 20 minutes against England!

    • Mr Wobbly

      “I wasn’t initially a fan as I felt we were throwing away over 100 years of tradition…”

      That’s fair enough but, to a greater or lesser degree, the AFL, NRL, FFA, BBL have all sacrificed their traditions – to their benefit. Just because something has been done in a particular way for a long time does not necessarily mean it’s being done the best way. Long live the NRC.

      • harro

        FFA yes, because they wanted to get rid of (foreign) national loyalties to teams and the problems that came with that. BBL – T20 has only been around for a decade. These teams won’t start competing in the Sheffield Shield at the expense of the long history and traditions that the teams in that competition hold. Both the NRL and the AFL have lots of teams with long histories and traditions. They have merged or moved some teams for financial reasons in a small number of cases. Do you think their fans would be happy if ALL the teams were ditched and all new teams created for their competitions?

        • Mr Wobbly

          I certainly did not suggest that club rugby should be disposed of and I think it should be recognised for it’s contribution to the Australian rugby landscape. Its volunteers and members are keeping rugby alive as a participation sport.

          The creation of the A-League did mean that all of the clubs were ditched and new ones created. I’m sure that there are more than a few people that still resent this.

          The BBL was basically created from nothing and has built a big following. Of course none of the BBL teams will join the Sheffield Shield – for the same reasons that no Sevens teams will join Super Rugby. Different games.

          The AFL have either created, merged or relocated clubs to make eight new teams. I know a lot of people still pine for the old days of watching their teams play at the Junction or Lakeside ovals but, the proof is in the pudding. Queensland is now the second largest state for AFL participation. Who would have thought that twenty years ago? It’s possible that in another twenty years Western Sydney will be an AFL stronghold.

          TBH, I know sfa about the NRL but I’d bet that that their expansion has also ruffled a few feathers.

          I suppose my point is that while history and tradition have a place they don’t necessarily have much influence on future success or the development of the game.

        • harro

          But creating teams for the NRC rather than allowing existing clubs to participate has essentially disposed of these clubs. They have been slowly dropped down from tier to tier since professionalism started with barely any acknowledgment of how crucial they were to there being any rugby in Australia in 1996 to turn professional.

          How many people have the time and the money to go to Test matches, SR matches, NRC matches and club rugby matches? The anger and panic you are seeing from some in club land I assume comes because they know eventually they will become irrelevant. I think that is sad.

  • Rebels3

    Good little article.

    I’ll make one amendment tho under club rugby and lesson to be learnt.

    “Realize you are the 4th tier, act like you’re the 4th tier, that club rugby is every club in Australia and not just Sydney. Stop committing gorilla warfare on the game throu your influence in the media to get your own agenda put forward. Your ambush tactics only create division within the game, your media influence manipulates those on the outside or casual viewers opinions throu agenda filled reporting and lastly accept the game is trying to brake away from the ‘establishment’ which has seen the game viewed as a jobs for the old boys club and built a potentially mighty sporting brand into a niche game within the almost 100 years of influence you have had. Only then you will be treated and respected accordingly.”

    Yours truly

    Every rugby fan who has absolutely no connection to a Shute shield team.

    • harro

      For that almost entire ‘almost 100 years of influence’ rugby was amateur and competing against sports with 100 years of professionalism. That a sport can survive for that long entirely on the hard work put in by volunteers is an incredible achievement. That’s real love for the sport. I think you’re being disrespectful

      • Who?

        But does that make Sydney Rugby any more deserving than Qld Premier Rugby? Should the Melbourne Club Comp – which survived in spite of the better organization of the AFL (compared to the NRL) not also be supported? Sure, they didn’t provide as many Wallabies, but they were also much, much, much less supported…
        And Rugby at City level – it’s a city comp, not even a city wide comp (I don’t see that saying you’ve got a team in Penrith counts when it’s so undersupported) – SHOULD be amateur, not shamateur, as it was for most of the past 20 years. If we’re going to have a semi-pro tier, it should be more national than a half-city-wide comp in one city in one state (of five provinces with internationally-playing provincial teams).
        Real love for the sport would work inside the sport rather than coming out and firing broadsides in a press that otherwise couldn’t give two hoots. Did Pappie – who has much better connections to the ARU than most – go through G&GR, or the Roar, first? Outlets which are dedicated to Rugby (or have dedicated areas for Rugby), which will get the desired attention from people who care, without bringing our sport into disrepute? By making it look like a shambles? I don’t recall seeing anything on this site from any of those involved in Shute Shield Rugby (I can’t call it Club Rugby, because that’s disrespectful to the 750+ clubs who don’t play in the Shute Shield, who never received any ARU funding, and who provide the vast majority of the players across our nation. They don’t turn up at SS Level never having held a Rugby ball before!).
        And compared to the return the ARU’s gotten from its investment in Women’s 7’s, then yes, spending on the Shute Shield is indeed low return, and arguably a frivolous waste. With limited resources to hand, the ARU has to make very clear choices about where its money goes. And funding a few clubs who figured out how to survive 100 years (basically unfunded) despite having professional codes around them isn’t necessarily the smartest place to spend. They’ve figured it out before, why can’t they continue to do what they’ve done in the past?

        • harro

          I have not mentioned Shute Shield, NSW or Sydney in any of my posts. Club rugby is club rugby and it exists in almost all states (city and regional). I don’t agree with how Papworth and others have gone about things but the Shute Shield is more than just three ex-Wallaby players/coaches

        • Rebels3

          Who? I believe harro wasn’t supporting any branch within the rugby community. He was just pointing out that it looked like I was being a little disrespectful through the tone of my post. Which on reviewing I can see how he comes to that conclusion.

        • Who?

          But your point was made in reply to a post specifically regarding SS. Hence my response.
          For the rest of us, volunteering in clubs around the country, there’s no disrespect in what Rebels3 has written.

        • harro

          The section of the article about grass roots rugby wasn’t just about NSW. I’ll concede that Rebels3 was specifically referring to SS, but that’s to ignore that the ARU’s attitude to club rugby affects it in all states. Papworth etc. are very vocal about it but surely there are people in Queensland Premier Rugby that feel the same way?

        • Who?

          I wasn’t replying to the article, I was replying to your post about Rebels3’s post. My points regarding the article are elsewhere.

          But I did have in mind your point about ‘throwing away 100 years of tradition.’ That’s a very NSW-centric viewpoint, and in fact a Sydney-centric viewpoint. For other regions, it wasn’t throwing away tradition, any more than making the Waratahs and Reds professional (rather than rep teams) was throwing away tradition. NSW has the Country Eagles. If I’m a country player, I’d want to play for them. The QRU established Qld Country and Brisbane City. Both are based on rep teams, which continue to exist in parallel, as feeders.

          Your viewpoint is fine – for you. You can only see things from where you’re sitting. And opinions are all valid. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all broaden our horizons a bit.

          And anyone in Qld Premier Rugby who’s grumpy about funding doesn’t go to the ARU – they go to the QRU, the next body up. If the SS/SRU want to whinge, whinge to the state body, not the national body. The SRU aren’t Pulver’s responsibility – they’re Hore’s problem. To skip the state body and go directly to the national body shows a level of self importance and arrogance that sets Sydney apart from other regions.

        • harro

          Isn’t Brothers 110 years old?

          Over 25 years, I have played in Sydney in the Illawarra and Subbies comps, Brisbane in the Sunny Coast and Suburban comps, and in Canberra in the Premier Division and Monaro comps. If you think I have a narrow viewpoint I guess you’re entitled to your opinion.

        • Who?

          And how’s having Brisbane City in the NRC any form of disrespect to Brothers? For 110 years, the pathway has been club – rep – state. That continues.
          Your viewpoint on NRC and its relationship to clubs is certainly very NSW-centric. I was at the QRU AGM when the NRC was announced, along with its Qld structuring, and the only questions were regarding whether the GC should be part of Qld Country. Which was answered – strongly – by representatives from places like Mt Isa and Charters Towers, who said, “Gold Coast has always been part of Queensland Country, and should always remain part of Qld Country!” There was no complaint from anyone present (and it was a well attended meeting) about a lack of respect for clubs. In fact, one of the points made was that the NSWRU had left the clubs to create their own NRC teams, which left the clubs carrying the can should things go pear shaped. All agreed that it was better for the state union to carry the risk.
          For mine, the biggest problem with the NRC wasn’t the structure – it was the lack of ownership of the concept and disorganization along partisan lines of the game between the SRU and NSWRU. That’s not a problem in Qld, Vic, WA, ACT… And that’s something for which the ARU should not be blamed. It’s something forever on the shoulders of those who ran the NSWRU at the time, and those who allowed such a festering mess as the disconnect between the NSWRU and SRU develop in the first place.
          In terms of clubs not being respected by the ARU, for mine, that’s not a concern. Clubs don’t deal with the ARU. They deal with their sub union. Who deal with their state union. So any concerns should be directed towards your sub union, and if they’re working with you but are feeling ignored, then through the sub union to the state union.

        • harro

          Wow, you write long rambling replies! Most of which are based on comments you invent but attribute to me. Where did I say the ARU was disrespecting clubs? The article actually made that statement. I said they threw away a lot of tradition by not including club rugby teams in the NRC, wherever they come from. I also said that I thought Rebels3 comment was disrespectful to the volunteers that have kept rugby going for 100 years. Apparently, though, you know the mind of every other rugby volunteer in the country and can state that they would not find this disrespectful. Amazing!

        • Who?

          You figured me out – I am the king of verbosity!
          Saying they threw away tradition is effectively saying they’ve disrespected the clubs, from your tone, across multiple posts. But given that, outside Sydney, the teams are largely rep-based, they haven’t thrown away tradition, neither have they disrespected clubs. There is no reason why a competition played at a level above club should involve clubs. Otherwise, you’re recruiting field for those clubs. What happens if you’re a great player at a club that can’t play NRC? That would be unfair. Rather, NRC should be separate, in that quasi-rep sphere, just as the five Super teams largely trace roots to former rep teams.
          I disagree that Rebels3’s comments were disrespectful to the volunteers. Because it’s clear he’s talking to the leadership of the clubs. Whilst leadership is voluntary, and they carry a lot of the load (though I’d suspect a lower percentage of a wider workload in an SS club than your average club), they are far from the majority of volunteers, and saying that your club’s leadership got it wrong isn’t necessarily disrespectful to the vast majority of the volunteers. Or the fans. In the same way it’s not disrespectful to Reds fans to say that appointing Richard Graham was a mistake. It’s not to disrespect the game in Australia to say that JON didn’t get it all right his second go around. That’s a long bow to draw, as is what you originally said.

        • harro

          Your a better man than me if you can correctly infer tone from an internet post.

          Why does the NRC have to be a level above club rugby? Both the NRL and AFL are club based national competitions. Super Rugby serves the role as the level above club rugby. Why do we need two levels of state based rep teams? Quasi-rep teams. Have you trade marked that?

          Besides, I don’t agree that the Canberra Vikings is a rep team. There’s a large amount of dislike in Canberra about how that team has come about. Some see it as really just the Tuggeranong Vikings. Their name, their colours, their home ground, and a majority of the administrators are theirs.

        • Who?

          The NRC needs to be a level above Club Rugby because there isn’t the capacity to run every existing club at NRC level, and clubs couldn’t universally step up the next level. Half of the tradition of a club is its rivalries, and if your rivals don’t all come on the journey, you’re losing tradition.

          Further, you’re isolating fans whose clubs haven’t made the step up. If I’m a Two Blues fan, and the NRC is club based, why should I care about the NRC? The Two Blues wouldn’t get there on promotion and relegation, or cash.

          It’s interesting to see the results over the past 20 years for both the AFL and NRL competitions. Planted teams have been pretty consistent in finals, whereas ‘traditional’ clubs have fluctuated. There’s a few who have been consistently strong (Collingwood, Geelong, Hawthorn in the AFL, Manly, Canterbury in the NRL, though maybe not this season), but planted clubs have won a lot, and been more consistent in their finals appearances. Think Swans, Eagles, Crows, Storm, Broncos,
          Cowboys. And their crowd figures are pretty handy, too. Why? Not just because they’re winning, but also because they represent an entire area, not just a club. So all the local clubs feel connected.

          It’s the better solution. To place the third tier as a regional team, representing the region (if not actually a rep team by selection). Not state level, regional. I’m not advocating for a second state level team (though if you want to talk about a Western Sydney Super Team, that’s what people are advocating. I’m opposed to that – can’t be that, otherwise you’re throwing away 130 years of Waratah tradition!). Regional – so, Qld Country. Perth Spirit. Melbourne Rising. NSW Country Eagles (and how great to see NSW Country do well this year). It would’ve been even better if it’d all been administered from St Leonards! Yes, I believe that we have too many little fiefdoms in Rugby in this country, and we’d all be better off if we were more centralized, like NZ. Or Ireland. All pulling together across our clubs for our regions, then for our provinces, and ultimately for Gold.

          Now I’ll happily grant that the ACT also didn’t get on board as cohesively as would’ve been ideal. But they’re a single team. Yes, I get they’re using Tuggeranong’s everything, but the Brumbies weren’t in a position to carry it. Ideally, over
          time, things will change, and it’ll become more independent. It’s almost the reverse story to the Crows in the AFL, where Port Magpies probably should’ve been a club stepping up (as Tuggeranong did), but the AFL decided – and, I believe, rightly – that having the only team in a single team town tied closely to a single club would be a mistake. That it could isolate fans from other clubs. The Vikings are illustrating that, and again, I definitely hope that it can move from being a club-backed team to a more independent team, which can only happen as it reaches a financial critical mass. Which the
          Brumbies have illustrated isn’t easy in Canberra.

      • Rebels3

        Sorry I just get carried away with the constant reminder that Australian rugby was at its strongest when the Shute shield was the focal point of Australian rugby. A notion that is completely and utterly untrue. Minus a small period in the mid 80s and early 90s it could be argued that Australian rugby now is considerably in a better place than it ever was pre 1995. Not that I’m saying it’s in rude health.

        I completely agree with your point on the volunteers, they do a fantastic job and the game would be well and truly extinct in this country if it wasn’t for them. But it just seems to my eyes that the argument being thrown around is as much skewed towards dwindling significance and standing (in other words power) as it is actually assistance to these fantastic volunteers, opportunities for players and most importantly brining the game to children ‘all over’ Australia. I truly believe they are of the opinion that they deserve/expect more assistance than the struggling clubs in the country, clubs in Perth, Melbourne, Gold Coast, cairns etc.

        It comes across as a self serving attitude, a ‘we will do what ever it takes’ even at the expense of others, forgetting that people away from the rugby ‘establishment’ need the same opportunities to develop, support and prosper. Their decision to oppose next years nrc opening round displays this point.

        As someone involved in club rugby in Victoria and had been involved in club rugby in qld for 10years. It feels like they aren’t representing us. Where as they have a great opportunity with their media influence to represent us all, because club rugby does desperately need a voice, just not one who from a far appears to have an agenda.

    • Hutch

      I have to agree @rebels3. As a long serving and ongoing player in Vic, U9s coach and father of 6 & 9 y.o. Boys playing their first seasons, I consider myself “grassroots”. I’m struggling to see how further supporting the semi-pro Shute Shield would help me, my boys, their team, or their aspirations.

  • Gottsy

    Good article mate.
    Hopefully I’ll be speaking for a lot of people when I say I’m looking forward to seeing the NRC grow, especially with the reported influence of Mick Byrne instilling more of a focus on skills.
    I think a lot of people got frustrated with the wallabies because we weren’t playing to potential, playing people out of position / form, and to top it off, playing dumb.
    The French game was a highlight for me (pocock was finally given a run in the 7 jersey and look what happened! Lets not get into that though haha)
    I see big things for the future, whether Cheika is the man for the job is irrelevant, because he’s what we’ve got for next year at least. Hopefully he uses his time in the off season to further develop a robust, intelligent game plan- it certainly looks like we should have the talent coming through to pull it off

  • Dud Roodt

    Good write up Nick.
    Touching on your point about Australian fans – not only are we bad losers, worse winners (and where did this come from? We used to be great winners. I guess a dry run does bad things to people) but we are also TERRIBLE sport fans. Everyone raves on about how Australians love their sport and are this great sporting nation. No we’re not.
    What other country do you find where people not only abandon their team, but the fucking sport! when their team isn’t winning!
    The Cleveland Browns still pack out their stadium with diehards and they’re lucky to win a game a year.
    I’ve personally been to football games in the UK to terrible teams and they’re still chockers!
    We as a nation are incredibly fickle and lazy supporters. And I would hazard a guess the same people who have the gall to slag off the ARU and the Tahs et al would be the first ones deciding on skipping the game after a loss.

  • Who?

    Good article Nick. For mine, the ARU cops it, constantly, and for reasons that really aren’t always fair. The issue around the ‘clubs’ – which really means a dozen clubs, out of over 750 nationwide – is something that the ARU shouldn’t even be touching. It’s an NSWRU problem, created by the NSWRU’s complete lack of any form of competence over the years, and their lack of any form of drive to fix it (until recently – but Hore deserves a chance to get his house in order, in the same way Pulver deserves/deserved a chance to get the ARU into some form of order). The Shute Shield is a good thing, but the independence of the Shute Shield is, frankly, toxic.

    The ARU, for everyone else, is doing a reasonable job! Sure, there’s financial issues, but they’re working on them. They’ve cut costs, they’re looking to boost revenues. These things don’t happen overnight – they’re not any slower than Canberra. They’ve put a lot of focus on the right areas at the right times. The NRC is a great case in point. The fact that they invested in 7’s – and specifically women’s 7’s – early – seriously early, early enough for us to get the jump on the rest of the world again (as we did with 15’s professionalism) and win a Gold – is a testament to their vision. And it will pay off for the next 30 years. Girls are getting involved across the country, and as they grow older, suddenly it won’t only be dad wanting his son to go play footy, it’ll be mum wanting all her kids to follow her own footsteps and get out there for some fun too. What a massive change that is!!! For years, it’s all been, “We can’t beat soccer, because the mums think it’s safer.” Suddenly, if a good number of the mums are current or former players, it’s a whole heap easier to recruit! The ARU’s focus there has been excellent, but I genuinely think we can’t fully appreciate it for another 30 years.

    For mine, the biggest (only?) reason – as a club administrator in the regions – that I’m grumpy with the ARU is that they want all clubs to sign up through RugbyLink online, rather than leaving us the option for proper Sign On Days, which, for the regions, when you’re talking about club allegiance, are crucial. Leave us to run our own sign on days (rather than forcing us all online like League – it works for them because they’ve got kids knocking down the door, and they don’t have to recruit anywhere near as hard), and we’ll be sweet.

    Then I’ll just be grumpy at the QRU for knocking down my proposal to follow the SJRU’s weight dispensation policy (thanks to Xaviera for the contacts in the SJRU to get extra information to try and push it through again)… They think it’s better to wait 12 months and try some stupid weight division policy review than use an existing and effective system with years of evidence as to its effectiveness… If they go to a weight based system, all they’ll do is push the big kids out of the game. Why should the U11’s boy we had join this year have to play against 14 year olds? It was his first year of rugby – he wouldn’t have come back for his second week!!!

  • Bay35Pablo

    Some comments:
    The ARU – Pulver cops some pounding but I think he has been doing a good job. He like McQueen 15 years ago for the Wallabies has been trying to run it like a business. He inherited almost 20 years of good old boys stuffing it up, pissing the RWC2003 money into a ditch, splurging costs in the HPU, and generally doing an amateur job running a professional game. Even JON squandered his legacy the 2nd time around, and showed perhaps all his good work the 1st time around had been mainly due to RL recovering from Super League and a home RWC boost.
    And quite frankly Pulver was right when he said the Shute Shield teams had pissed their money up against the wall. They wasted money paying players that should have gone into development, which they could neatly put back on NSWRU and ARU. Now they get nothing and its the ARU abandoning the “grass roots” (read: them). Shute Shield and Hospitals Cup need coin to pay for TV coverage on ABC or 7, without which they don’t get the sponsorships or exposure. Problem is times are tough, and that money has been cut too. And they’ve wasted the last 20 years sucking on the ARU nipple rather than building themselves up, despite being ostensibly their own SRU (for the Shute Shield).
    The Team – Agreed on Cheika. He and the team don’t go from great to chumps in 6 months. Sh!t happens. The ABs are on fire. England played the best I have seen them since 2003, and with a more rounded game (IMHO). We are rebuilding. Aussie fans have unrealistic expectations of where we sit, based on 15 year old memories. If you only sing when we’re winning, you aren’t a real “fan”. Fan = fanatic. Good times and the bad. I’m here for the long haul. Look at Socceroos fans – lot more realistic expectations, as they have to!
    Cheika does come across as whinging, but it doesn’t mean he’s wrong. International refereeing and consistency is a travesty and has been for years. It’s not going to get fixed unless it gets called out. As usual the World Rugby are too busy at the NH buffet, and not making the hard decisions or doing the hard necessary tasks (global season anyone)?. Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome – pretend we don’t have a problem ….
    Moore and Mumm copped criticism even when they had good games, as far as I am concerned as the question was why they cannot play like that all the time. IMHO Moore is in the backward slide of his career. Mumm is just too small for Test lock, not enough consistent mongrel, and too erratic in form.

    Grassroots Rugby – See ARU above. Deliberately pitting the Shute Shield GF against the NRC Round 1 is the most stupid and mischievous thing I have seen done in rugby in memory. It was an FU to the ARU to show they could make it hard for them. They may say they were “driven to it” to open discussions. But I don’t buy that. This is a pissing contest between alpha males. I have serious doubts Papworth & Co would or could do much different to Pulver once they were in the driver’s seat and running the game. The ARU aren’t perfect, but the SRU are well short but that has been allowed in part due to NSWRU dysfunction for years. The NRC is the way to go, and the problem is Shute Shield sees it stealing its zone and money. Lead, follow or get out of the way.

    The Fans – Aussie fans have never been afraid to speak their minds. Remember the Tahs fan forum of a few years ago when we were not winning ugly under Hickey and Foley? The fans have not been happy for a while, and this is just the nadir. A lot of fans have been lost, and will be very hard to win back. We were never going to do it this year without winning more.

    I also draw a big distinction between the fans and the Aussie rugby media. The later have IMHO gone to the dogs over the last 5 years for various reasons. The senior writers are gone and replaced by juniors, and many of those involved have gone to the clickbait revolution all media is falling to. Bad news sells, tabloid headlines get attention, so flog a bad story. Not enough time, recycle that press release. Rugby not getting attention, editors give more attention to NRL and AFL with their premasticated content. I now call the Aussie rugby media the Bad News Bears. They are one of the biggest problems for Aussie rugby as far as I am concerned. Like trying to stage an opera with Statler & Waldorf yelling at you from the cheap seats.
    And I actually was shocked at how bad winners the Kiwis were this year. I don’t know if their bogan quotient has jumped on the bandwagon, but I have never seen them so bad, and they are usually OK. If they thought my previous heckling was bad, the gloves are off now (except for Joe the Enormous Samoan and his cousins who really are nice chaps and I wouldn’t want to offend). :)

    • Nicholas Wasiliev

      Hi Bay35Pablo. Great points you bring up here. Its great to keep the conversation going and talk about this. I very much agree with you that the Aussie rugby media has also played a role in this (unfortunately I wasn’t able to cover it as much as I would have liked), and it is unfortunate that many fans have fallen into that negative image that the media represents. It doesn’t present a good image of the game, nor a entirely correct image either. But, I do find unfortunate that so many fans consistently believe the wild things printed in our media. You are very correct that they are playing a role too.
      In regards to Pulver, I myself do sympathise with his view about the Sydney clubs and pissing money up the wall. The issue is more to do with the way he went about it: you aren’t going to win many friends in the SRU when you make comments like that in the public arena. I think, because of that, he will probably have to try and mend some fences with them. But I also, like you do, get his point of view. The Shute Shield itself has been incredibly unbalanced for many years, and mismanagement of money is a big part of that. Both parties have to compromise.
      I agree with you too that Cheika has, with some of the games this year, had reasonable grounds to question the referees. The All Blacks game with Roman Poite was one such example: I have my own issues with Poite, because he has a habit of taking sides over the course of games based on the discipline, and the All Black match is not the first time this has happened. He also, in my opinion, was very harsh to the English when they lost to the Wallabies last year at the World Cup, and to the Springboks when they lost at Eden Park in 2014 (when Bismark Du Plessis got sent off for one of the best tackles I’ve ever seen on Dan Carter). He is a ‘emotional referee’, which I think often affects his judgement. But Cheika reached the stage where he accused referees of outright cheating; such as the case of Nigel Owens and the England match in Sydney: which in my opinion from being there was a wonderful contest that seemed quite balanced. He didn’t even attend the England pre-match meeting with the referee and Eddie Jones in November. That really is shooting yourself in the foot, and in my opinion, there are better ways to manage speaking to the referees. Sometimes it is not a bad thing to admit you misjudged as a coach, which I think happened several times this year. But I think Cheika will learn a lot from this year.
      Really great points you bring up.

  • Marie Gain

    Spot on.

  • Brendan Hume

    As an outsider to the Sydney comp and the NRC (in that I don’t watch either) – is there really a problem with a clash between the SS GF and the NRC, apart from a few club players maybe having an overlap? Any contracted players will play where they’re told. Schedule games outside Sydney on that weekend – the more rugby the better I reckon.

    • Who?

      Just means any teams reliant on SS players might be a bit weak the first round. So all the non-NSW NRC teams will be hoping to face NSW teams that first weekend. ;-P

    • RugbyReg

      yeah, preparation for the NRC is key. You don’t want players just waltzing into their first game. you want some decent preparation to get the best out of the team and showcase the game and the competition at its best.

  • astamax
  • Brumby Runner

    I think, in the teams section, we should also acknowledge a gradual but significant improvement in the attacking skills of the Wallabies over the duration. Pretty well atrocious at the beginning of the test calendar, until towards the end of the year, even in games they lost, there was a definite improvment in their attacking structures. Many wonderful tries scored from first phase ball. Unheard of in recent times.

  • Nicholas Wasiliev

    Find it interesting that lot of the comments related to this article on Facebook are people saying “don’t select Mumm” or “sack the coach” or “never play the mighty All Blacks again…”. Almost kinda proving my point haha

    • BigNickHartman

      welcome to the world of writing on the internet

    • RugbyReg

      remembering that a lot of those people don’t read the article and are mostly just reacting to the title.

    • Nicholas Wasiliev

      Yeah I knew that was going to happen. I just find it very ironic. Oh the internet, what a thing you are!

  • mark conley

    Scott Sio, Silalotu Latu, Allan Ala’alatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman! tight 5 and then Lopeti Timani hovering Oh i am so much looking forward to watching these players develop!

  • joy

    Geeez, these posts are enormous. Bloggers clearly want more from GAGR through the off season.

    I’m quite disgusted with some Sydney clubs. They want independence but are like a bad corner store demanding help from Coles. If they want money they need to create something that people want to buy. Running their clubs like an business would be a good start.

  • Wallabies#1

    Top work and well said, way too much negativity. Run into a fella recently who was whinging about the death of the game, said how much he loved it, but he has not watched a game live in years. If you love the game, support it like a true die hard

National Rugby Championship
@Nick_Wasiliev

Die-hard Brumbies/Country Eagles fan now based in Sydney. Author, anthropologist, musician and second-rower trying to kick start a writing career in an increasingly bonkers world...

More in National Rugby Championship