As the only G&GR writer who can be truly described as an A-lister, I was out and about on Saturday night after watching the Test at home.
Between the tirade of photo and autograph requests (how they let some of these people behind the velvet rope is beyond me), I chatted to some of my friends about the performance of our boys at Eden Park. Well, chatted may not be the right word. The standard conversation went pretty much like this:
Me: Did you watch the Wallabies game?
Friend: Looks down. Shakes head knowingly. Sips beer. Changes subject.
Occasionally I’d get a verbal response, but generally no more than six words (e.g. ‘Jeez, how shit were they?’, or ‘Don’t want to talk about it’). Then we’d resume talking about Proust and his views on mortality (yes, I am friends with Rocky).
I have been a Waratahs fan all my life and this response to questioning is all too familiar to me, particularly in the last five years or so. I know that look, the mumbled reply, the ‘let’s not talk about it’ shake of the head, and then the requisite change of subject. I know when a team ceases to become ‘the Waratahs’ and start becoming ‘the fucking Waratahs’.
It is a complex process when a team’s fans turned from disappointed to apathetic. The blame rests with administrators, coaches and players alike. It involves any and all of the following: strange coaching appointments, baffling selections, infantile skills, boring style of play, incomprehensible tactics. But at the end of the day though there is one solid undercurrent that it all rests upon — on-field results. If you’re winning games, people are talking about you. Even when you are losing games, people are often talking about you, especially if you are playing a good style of rugby (a point I will elaborate on shortly). But there reaches a point, a perfect storm if you will, of so many fuck-ups that in defeat you will barely raise an eyebrow, let alone start a conversation.
I don’t think the Wallabies are there yet, but they are close. They have been shit in their last two games (the two most important of the year) but weren’t too bad in June. People were watching, smiling, talking. Now the hand is hovering dangerously above the remote control. When you delve into specifics it is easy enough to see why.
Look back at season 2010. The results weren’t great, but we were fielding a raw, young side. Cooper, Beale, Genia and Pocock were still cutting their teeth at the top level. Despite all this we scored an average of 27 points a game. Now the law interpretations were more friendly to attacking sides back then, and our defence had plenty of holes, but I pose this question to you: when was the last time the Wallabies scored more than 27 points in a test match?
The answer is against Russia in Nelson in last year’s RWC. If you want to find a serious test match you have to go further back to the opening game of the 2011 Tri Nations against the Boks in Brisbane. Since that night our boys have averaged a paltry 15 points a game (excluding RWC minnow games).
In 2010 we scored a raft of tries, a lot of them worthy of an all-time highlights reel. Since then? Barely enough for a 15-second link clip between novelty segments on The Rugby Club.
So while the results are largely the same as in 2010, the mood is a whole lot different. From Wallaby optimism to Waratah pessimism. It’s all about the style, the vibe, and the distinct disappointment that can only come with unrealised potential.
I liken the Wallabies to indie band MGMT. Now I realise most of you over the age of 40 will have no idea who they are, but hear me out for a second, as their story is not uncommon in the music world and I’m sure you’ll find parallels from the swing era, or the Roaring 20s, or whatever you listened to before I was born.
MGMT’s debut album was good. Not one for the ages, but a very solid offering with three or four top songs. The style was upbeat and fresh, and the future was bright. People were listening, talking, dancing. Then came their second album. Against all advice they opted for a change of style, taking away some of their more crowd pleasing aspects for a somewhat darker sound. The following is an excerpt of a review of this second album from NZ Riot Radio (not the most authoritative source, but again just go with it). See if any of it sounds familiar:
And that’s just it: ‘Congratulations’ is not a terrible album as such. It’s just a huge waste of potential, a massive let-down, an anti-climax. An inspirational void. There’s nothing actually mind-bogglingly awful here. If this had been the band’s first album, then it might have made a lot more sense: this was them perfecting their craft before unleashing the massive step up in songwriting that was ‘Oracular Spectacular’ (MGMT’s successful first album). How it happened the other way around is something of a mystery. It’s like having a first date with Scarlett Johansen, only to have Gwyneth Paltrow turn up for the second: a sophisticated, large breasted blonde replaced by a reprehensible, flaky and potentially mentally impaired substitute. A limp-wristed hand shandy after a night of hot sex.
We caught a glimpse of Scarlett in 2010, but since then it seems we have been stuck with Gwyneth. She’s OK, I suppose, but after seeing what Scarlett had to offer you can’t help feeling let down.
It’s not a perfect analogy but it’s Monday and thus it will have to do. MGMT will release a third album. They can start afresh. The Wallabies don’t have that luxury. Waratah disease spreads fast, and they need to find the cure quick smart — or else sink into the abyss of supporter apathy.