With the Tri-Nations over, and the domestic competitions finished, Australian Rugby is left with a notable gap in the market. A fact obvious by the complete lack of content in the papers at the moment. Hell, even we here at Green and Gold Rugby have slowed down a little. There’s just not a hell of a lot to talk about at the moment.
But it was different three years ago. Back then, as we crept towards the 2007 RWC, we had a little thing called the Australian Rugby Championship (ARC) – our attempt, seemingly failed attempt, at a national competition.
Now the debate surrounding such an event will continue until we have some sort of ‘third tier’ competition up and operational. In my mind there is little doubt about one thing, Australian Rugby may be poorer financially because of the competition, but they are richer from a player perspective.
One only needs to look at the commercial for the MRC to prove the point. Whoever came up with the tagline of “you don’t know me….yet” deserves a gold star. Watch and discover why.
So let’s go through the players we see.
First up is Luke Burgess, looking all buff and serious in the opening shots in the anonymous change room. At the time of the ARC Luke had been contracted to the Brumbies for about three years, but only featured a handful of times due to the presence of Wallaby captain George Gregan. In 2007 Burgess signed for the Waratahs, but would head down south to play for the Melbourne Rebels in the ARC. The Rebels went all the way to the final and the new rules, particularly the focus on free-kicks rather than a penalty, suited Burgo’s strong running game. The next year we would definitely get to know who this man was as, despite starting the S14 season on the bench, his form would eventually gain him a Wallaby jumper and 11 test caps by the end of the year. He’s still very much a Wallaby candidate and a more than likely member of the RWC squad come next year.
Next up is the brickie’s labourer –‘Super Prop’, Jeremy Tilse. Ok, I’ll accept that many of you will be saying “umm, I still don’t know him” but I
reckon that will change within the next 12 months. Tilse was only 21 during the ARC, and played for the Sydney Fleet (a combo of Sydney Uni, Randwick, Easts and Southos) battling for a starting spot with the likes of Laurie Weeks and Danya Edwards. Currently, Tilse only has half a dozen Super caps, despite making his debut back in 2007. Many non-Sydney Uni types have queried his abilities, but towards the tail end of this year’s Super 14 we began to see what those ‘students’ have been talking about. At 194cm and 117kg, he possesses an imposing physique and it is that, along with this year’s form, that leads me to believe he is a shot at stepping up for the Wallabies next year. So sure, you may not know him. But just hold on for the ‘yet’.
Now for beauty and the beast. The ‘beast’ part is clearly the tough, rough and tumble pig shootin’, flanno wearin’ farmer. The beauty party is, ….., why the hell is he wearing mascara? Anyway, the player in question is AJ Gilbert. Back in 2007 Gilbert was playing his rookie season of Super 14 rugby having signed a one year contract with the Reds. He only featured in one game that season. Unfortunately it was as a replacement in that 92-3 annihilation at the hands of the Bulls in Pretoria. There were somewhat high hopes for young AJ. Seemingly built on the fact he played open-side flanker and he had dreaddies – ike George Smith! He had already played for the Australian U19 (championship winning) team as well as the Aussie 7s team. Interestingly Reds coach Eddie Jones, ever the ‘innovator’ used Gilbert as a backup scrumhalf on occasions, in an attempt to provide greater depth on the bench arguing that all he had to do was play as a 9th forward. AJ played for the disastrously named East Coast Aces and never really went on. A couple more games off the bench for the Reds in 2008 and that would be it. He played a little club footy in Briso and then played some league in Ipswich. He’s back playing rugby now, for North Sydney in the Tooheys New Shield and at 23 might have something more to give, but realistically he has been surpassed by a bucketful of young back-rowers.
Moving into a little more of the tragic area now, it’s Shawn Mackay (in the mail room). I’d wager most of you know who Mackay is. Mackay is the former Brumbies player
who passed away in 2009 having been hit by a vehicle returning home from a night out whilst on tour in South Africa. Such a passing is dreadful at any time, but what made it more so for Mackay is that the professional rugby career he’d worked so hard to attain was finally reaching fruition. A regular in the Aussie 7s side (captain at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and Coach of the Australian Women’s side), Mackay had been signed by the Brumbies for the 2009 season, having featured for the Waratahs in a few games some years earlier. Mackay is another, like Luke Burgess, who decided to head to Melbourne and play for the Rebels, persuaded by the fact his coach would be his 7s mentor Billy Millard. His appearance in the ad definitely adds certain poignancy to the message, particularly for any young player playing, or trying to play, professional rugby – NEVER take anything for granted.
The next image we see is that of a life saver. And that life saver is Matty Hodgson. Hodgo was one of those guys who was reasonably well known, at least around Sydney, at the time of the ARC. He had been a stand out in Sydney Club rugby and had represented Australia on the 7s circuit. He was in fact yet another 7s rep who followed coach Millard to the Melbourne Rebels. Whilst Hodgson would debut for the Force in 2006, the ARC at the end of 2007 was his chance to really show his wares and fulfil the potential so many had seen in him many years before. After being around the Wallabies for much of 2009, he finally made his debut this year against Fiji. It’s been a long time coming and richly deserved considering the awesome form he showed for the Force these last few years.
Lazing on the couch waiting to be called a “legend” is young Reds prop Ben Daley. Now from my reckonings there’s a good reason
he’s laid up on the couch and that’s because I am pretty sure he was injured most of 2007. He’s listed as being in the East Coast Aces, and at 19 that’s not bad for a prop. He was definitely a comparative no-name back then. However he’s worked hard at every step of the way and was rewarded with a test debut this year. In fairness he was probably out of his depth a little, but no one can deny his commitment and there’s little doubt he’ll be back in that green and gold jersey a better player.
Now the yuppie in the office get up, no doubt sipping on a skinny-cino whilst checking his portfolio HAS to be a Waratah. And it is. It’s none other than Dean Mumm. 2007 was a bit of a breakthrough year for Mumm, making his Waratah debut early in the season and going on to play about a dozen games for them. So impressive was his form that he would be selected for Australia A. For the ARC he played with the highly credential Sydney Fleet, the team most expected to dominate the competition. They didn’t but Mumm wouldn’t need long for people to get to know him with his Wallaby debut coming in the first test of 2008, alongside Luke Burgess.
The hoodie in the hallway is obviously Kurtley Beale. Despite being just 18 at the time of the ARC, Beale was one of the ‘biggest’
names in the comp. He was a schoolboy sensation, had signed with the Waratahs whilst still at school, debuted for them earlier that year and had already trained with the Wallabies. Whilst many were complaining that Beale, and his Oz Schoolboys team mate Quade Cooper, were being rushed into professional rugby, the ARC was seen as the perfect initiation into higher level rugby. Beale played for the tournament surprise packets Western Rams and was named Player of the Tournament. For KB it would be just a matter of when, and not if, he would play for the Wallabies. Eventually it would happen in the very last test of 2009. He has relished the international stage in 2010 and has been a dominant force for Australia playing at fullback – the position he played for the Rams in their very first game about three years ago now.
Getting the un-themed close up is Josh Holmes. Only 20 at the time of the ARC, Holmes was another young gun who carried high expectations. He showed why in forming a damaging combination in the halves with Beale for the Western Rams. Holmes had made his Super Rugby debut for NSW earlier in the season, but would take up a two year contract with the Brumbies the following year. He’s back at the Tahs now but has never been able to command the starting spot he craves. No one really doubts his skills, but his defence, or more specifically his commitment to contact, is what gets called into question. Interestingly, his club side has used him successfully at Inside Centre in the past. His versatility may end up working against him though as he makes a handy bench player. Unless something clicks very soon, I can’t see much chance of him being a Wallaby rep in the foreseeable future.
Yep, that’s the Faingaas beating each other up and showing their love. Back in 07 they played for Canberra in the ARC, although neither really grabbed any headlines with
their performances. Both were excellent junior players, excelling at the Under 19 Champions in 2006. Saia debuted for the Brumbies the same year, whilst Anthony would get his first game in 2007 (as well as being picked in the Aussie 7s team). For the Faingaas it would not be until this year, their 2nd at the Reds, that potential would be realised and whilst both have been indifferent for the Wallabies, they are both real World Cup candidates next year.
Now I’m pretty sure the big guy with the cute bub next to him in bed is the one and only Salesi Ma’afu (incidentally, why is his finger strapped? To cuddle his child?). The thing, though, is that the Big Bopper didn’t play in the ARC. He had already debuted with the
Brumbies earlier that year, and in fact made the Australia A squad as well. My suspicion is, however, that Salesi didn’t play in the ARC because it conflicted with his time with the Leicester Development Squad. It was a great opportunity for Ma’afu and it was followed by selection in the Barbarians team that defeated the newly crowned World Champion Springboks soon after the RWC. Selection in the touring Wallaby squad last year, was followed by full Wallaby selection this year where he is one of only three players to start in every test of the year.
There’s no question as to who the young looking bloke playing in the mud is. It’s Dave Pocock. Like his Aussie Schoolboys’ team mate Kurtley Beale, most Aussie Rugby
fans knew the name Pocock prior to the ARC. Just a year out of school, Pocock made his S14 debut for the Force late in the 2006 season. The following year he was a regular for the Force and represented Aussie A as well. So once it came to the ARC, it was more a case of letting him loose on a new batch of teams and sitting back to see how he took to it. He took to it pretty damn well and is now an indispensable part of the Wallaby team and a future Wallaby skipper, of that there is little doubt.
Now I almost missed this last one. I thought it was just a standard crowd shot. But in fact it’s not. In a blink and you’ll miss him shot, there’s Alfi Mafi. The little jet shoed winger who’s trying to do a ‘Fava’ in playing for as many Aussie provincial sides as he can. He started at the Tahs, got limited time at the Brumbies (through injury) and will next year try his luck at the Force. The stand is probably an apt place for wee Alfi to be located, as he has spent a fair chunk of his recent career in it, watching the big boys battle it out. Some good form of late, however, for Sydney Uni has reminded many of his abilities. He should be a good match for the Force as they look for a bit of finishing speed on their wings, speed we’ve seen very little of from Mafi. Even when he was playing with the Fleet during the ARC.
All in all, it was a fairly well chosen bunch of players. Nine have been named in the Wallaby squad for the Spring Tour whilst all, except for AJ Gilbert and the late Mackay have Super 15 contracts for next year. The argument must come as to whether these players would have come through the system regardless, but you gotta admit – the ARC certainly played a part in them being the players they are today!