I hope episode 32 of the Chewsday Chew finds you all happy, a little fat and healthy.
This past week saw two things catch my attention in tandem with each other:
- Jack Dempsey becoming Jock Dempsey, and
- The brutal simplicity of Australian humour and its ability to make something so otherwise nondescript into a pejorative.
Firstly, in case you’ve been living on another rugby planet and don’t know what I’m talking about, the 1.91m, 112kg and 28yr old backrower Jack Dempsey has been named as one of Scotland’s three uncapped squad members (along with Stafford McDowall and Murphy Walker) to play the autumn test series – a series which includes an outing against Australia.
“So what?” you may ask.
Well to flesh that out a little, Jack is the nephew (not son – apologies) of (uncapped) Wallaby tourist Tony Dempsey and is a Riverview Old Boy who has, among other things, racked up a Shute Shield premiership with Gordon in 2020, spent 7 seasons in the Waratahs (2015-2021) and represented Australian Schools and U20s.
Oh, and did I also mention he has also played 14 tests for the Wobblies including the 2019 World Cup as well?
However, after last playing for the Wobblies at the aforementioned 2019 World Cup, and since first debuting for the Glasgow Warriors in September 2021, Dempsey now qualifies for Scottish selection given he has spent three years out of international rugby and has a “credible link via birthright” courtesy of his Scottish grandfather, Andrew.
As such, given life is short and rugby careers shorter, the lad has taken a decision that, while completely logical, must have been far from easy. And the response from Australian quarters has been mixed and ranged from the ‘Meh’ to the ‘Go you good thing’ to the ‘How dare he?’.
Now while I generally come from the philosophy that each soul is entitled to their own opinion, I think a lot of the bluster along the lines of ‘How dare he?’ is complete bovinial excrementus on three fronts:
- The guy is eligible to be selected for Scotland. He is operating completely within the rules as they are structured and so ‘nulla poena sine lege’ (no penalty without law) rightly kicks in. It is, after all, one of the oldest maxims of law as we know it. So sod off.
- He is a professional. Playing rugby is what he does. He is completely entitled, and in fact from the perspective of his very Catholic education he is arguably obligated, to push that opportunity of taking his attributes (and coincidentally his earning potential) to highest possible point that he honestly can. So bugger off.
- Australian rugby tossed him aside years ago. He isn’t walking out on the Wobblies – the Wobblies closed the door on him. Then he found another way to get to the ‘the top’. So get nicked.
Full balls to
Jack Jock Dempsey. Good luck to him. I hope he plays against Australia. And while I don’t hope he turns the game and wins it for the wee Begbie-Bastards, I do hope he plays an absolute blinder to be proud of.
Personally I’m sorry he has been out of Wobbly contention for so long so as to allow this to happen. While bearing the unfortunate affliction of being a (Wara)Tart, my recollection of him is that he has lovely footwork just prior to contact, meaning he frequently finds a defender’s soft shoulder and thus his post-contact metres are generally first rate. He reminds me of a younger Isi Naisarani in that manner. Plus he’s a crafty defender in his own right and a very handy lineout option. Therefore while he isn’t an outright linebreaker of the Valetini mode, his line-bending and general Fardyesque breakdown smarts marked him (at least to me) as an athletic footballer rather than a footballing athlete.
Perhaps that was his downfall, though, as we’re all familiar by now with the inferences and implications of the oft-repeated infamous press conference stock-phrase, “we trained well.”
What I do think is of far more interest are the implications this sort of situation highlights regarding the eligibility rules of World Rugby as they stand. For a long time Australian rugby supporters have stood apart from this argument as the only time it entered our sphere was when it worked to our advantage. While ever the ‘turncoats’ were only ever discarded mercenary South Africans turning out for Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy and whoever else was willing to pay them, we didn’t really care. Or if it were Pacific Islanders selling themselves off to the frigid north as part of (arguably) the South Pacific’s most valuable export trade, the only eyebrow it raised in local waters was one of disappointment that such fine physical specimens were not donning the nearly All Black or Wobbly gold.
But instead, now it has certainly been rammed home to us in stark relief. Here we see the rule of unintended consequences in full splendour. If we cast our mind back to November 2021, World Rugby enacted the landmark change to its eligibility laws to allow players to switch test nation allegiance one -time and with the specific intent of significantly bolstering the squads of developing countries, particularly Pacific Island squads, for future World Cups. Stemming from what was quietly acknowledged as ‘significant’ lobbying from World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont and World Rugby Director of Rugby Joe Schmidt, the move was heralded at the time as an ‘update (to) the regulation recognising the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game’ and it was envisaged as to allow accomplished players of the time such as Charles Piutau, Israel Folau, George Moala and Vaea Fifita the opportunity to take their skills and knowledge ‘home’ to (in this case) Tonga, for the overall benefit of both Tonga and the larger competitive game.
The argument that it may allow tier 1 players to convert to other tier 1 nations was dismissed out of hand. And leaving aside potentially valid arguments as to whether we still are a tier 1 nation or not (and we may not be come December), nonetheless we are grimly hanging on to no 9 in the world while Scotland are securely ranked no 6 and so definitely ARE a tier 1. So how the worm has turned and Murphy’s Law has done its thing.
The other thing that caught my attention during the week was how the phrase “is anyone who ever held a can of warm Foster’s now an ‘Aussie’?” made me laugh. Foster’s as a fantastic pejorative arose when I had made a clumsy point related to how much talent Australia had lost, in this case to Scotland, in recent years and one witty pundit (‘Birdy’) fired back with that great riposte regarding the Aussie penchant for turning any tenuous link regarding the circumstances of a person-of-interest background into an argument they were truly for the use of Australia alone. Fair shot Birdy and it got a snort out of me over my morning coffee.
But it did get me thinking about another XV selection – in this case it’s the ‘Can of warm Foster’s XV of players who were either born overseas and came to play for the Wobblies, or were born in Australia but attained some prominence playing rugby overseas. So to that end, I present…
The Can of Warm Foster’s XV
- Enrique “Topo” Edgardo Rodríguez – born in Argentina and made 13 appearances for Los Pumas before moving to Australia and accumulating 26 tests including being an indelible linchpin of the 1984 Grand Slam Wobbly team. He later also racked up a single test for Tahiti apparently.
- Nic Dolly – grew up playing his junior rugby for Dural and Eastwood, before being named in Eddie Jones England squad at the end of 2021. I include Nic because, while uncapped, we are struggling for hookers right now. Or, if you want to argue that Nic’s inclusion is unwarranted try Stephen Moore on for size given he was born in Khamis Mushait in Saudi Arabia to Irish parents before moving to Oz in 1988.
- Patricio Noriega – anchoring the other side of the warm beer front row, Pato made his test debut for his native Los Pumas in 1991 against Paraguay and made 25 caps before migrating to Australia to play for the Brumbies and debuting for the Wobblies in 1998 on his way to another 24 caps.
- The Gray brothers (Richie and Johnny) mum lives outside of Wagga in NSW. Say what you like, I’m claiming them.
- See above. There are 2 of them. Or take Dean Mumm who, prior to his 56 Tests in Wobbly gold, was born in Auckland in the land of Filthy Hobbitses.
- Viliami Ofahengaue was born and raised in Tonga. Willie O did tour Australia with the New Zealand Schoolboys of 1988, however by quirk of fate, on the return trip he was refused re-entry to New Zealand with his Tongan passport. So he moved to Australia instead and went on to play 41 tests from 1990 to 1998, including the World Cup final in 1991 wherein Phil ‘Lightning’ Kearns completely missed John Eales in a crucial lineout and Willie O cleaned up the mess resulting in Tony Daly’s and Ewen McKenzie’s shared World Cup winning try.
- David Pocock – some nobody who was born in South Africa in 1988 and was raised in Gweru, Zimbabwe before moving to Brisbane in 2002.
- Toutai Kefu is a another Tonga-born good servant of Australian rugby, who earned 60 caps playing at number eight for the Wobblies including Bledisloe Cups (what are they again?), Tri Nations and of course the 1999 Bill.
- George Musarurwa Gregan – maker of The Greatest Tackle Ever (just ask every Kiwi), was born in Lusaka, Zambia to an Australian father and a Zimbabwean mother, before migrating to Oz in 1975 (aged 2). In his 139 Test match appearances for his adopted nation over 14 yrs, his 79 Test partnership with Stephen Larkham remains a world record. And it would also be remiss of me here, given the trivia value of it, to not mention Tawera Narada James Kerr-Barlow who was born in Melbourne before committing the unforgiveable and going to play rugby for those filthy Hobbitses over the ditch.
- Craig Gower – while surely better known for his rugby league exploits, the McCarthy Catholic College (Emu Plains) graduate did play 14 rugby tests over 3 seasons for the Italian Azzurri (believe it or not). Yes, I left out Quade Cooper for Craig Gower. Get over it.
- Marika Koroibete – the human jack-in-a-box who made arguably the 2nd greatest tackle in history (ask any South African) was once famously described by one female reporter as ‘looking like a condom stuffed full of walnuts’ (before she realised her microphone was live) was born in Fiji.
- Sam Johnson – A St Edmund’s Canberra graduate who made a name in Queensland rugby, Sam debuted for Scotland against Italy in 2019 and has made 26 appearances for the Scots to date.
- Tevita Kuridrani – another of Fiji’s favourite sons, was born in Suva and grew up in the small Fijian village of Namatakula before moving with his family to Australia in 2007. The K-train accumulated over 60 Tests after debuting in 2013 and remains one of my favourite 13s of all time.
- Mackenzie ‘Mack’ Hansen is a Canberra born and bred, Vikings (not Tuggeranong) product, who played for the Aussie U20s and Brumbies but then, when reportedly disenchanted with the Wobbly preference for ‘non-rugby alternative selections’ (and who can blame him), made the move to Connacht and then debuted for Ireland in 2022 on the wing. He qualified for Ireland via a Cork-born mother. Who could ever forget his try against the French .
- Dane Haylett-Petty was born in Durban, South Africa. His family moved to Fremantle (who could blame them?) when wee Dane was 10 years old and he gained residency in 2003. After debuting for the Wobbs in 2016 he made 38 Test appearances (to date, who knows given our injury rates).
Anyway, there’s a team. There’s an opinion.
Am I wrong? Am I right? Who did I leave out? Who should I have not put in? Tell me in the comments.