Post tenebras lux – after darkness I hope for light.
Hi Ya Cobbers, and thanks for joining me yet again as we gird our loins, tighten our cinches, take another swig from the bottomless bottle of hope and strap ourselves in for yet another year of journeying down paths deep, dim and twisted that surround the gift that just keeps giving – Australian rugby. Yes friends, I refer not to Stage Three Tax Cuts, but to our strange, inexplicable adherence to a faith under more pressure than the latest Christian Brothers recruitment drive: being an Australian rugby fan.
And I must say that it’s amazing that we keep showing up. Seriously, being an Australian rugby fan is a conviction more baffling to me than religion itself. See, loosely speaking, science is coming up with an idea, testing it, analysing the results, re-analysing the data and settling on an outcome founded in some sort of empiric fact. Religion is being told an idea, which idea largely being a reflection of the incidental geography of your birth, and spending the rest of you life listening to circular arguments that reinforce what you were told. Each to their own under section 116 of our proud Constitution.
But being an Australian rugby fan is something different altogether; this is seeing something you like for no easily discernible reason, about which you hold vague memories that it was something good at some stage in your life, deliberately ignoring everyone telling you those memories are either gone or false, and still believing in the idea anyway.
Nonetheless, here I am and here are we, going down the only road we’ve ever known. There’s a song about that isn’t there? And just hold on one sec, because where are we exactly?
By the tables above, kindly provided by World Rugby, in the big game our men are 9th in the world, behind Wales but ahead of Fiji, while our women are 5th in the world being behind Canada but ahead of Wales.
As regards the men’s game, given we just had the World Cup in which we lost to Fiji and Wales en-route to crashing out in the pool stages (our worst result ever), how we are adjudged better than Fiji who beat us in that tournament 22-15 on 18 September is a little baffling. But thems be the breaks. As regards the women’s game, by my reading of the situation, that positioning seems about right, although I think the Americans may be a bit hard done by on that table.
In the other variant of the game, it’s the HSBC SVNS tournament that’s the yardstick at this point in time as folk contemplate their upcoming Olympic campaigns. And to that end, the standings are:
In both comps, the front-runners are clearly superior to the trailers and their dominance is opening up a clear margin. For us, thank goodness our women continue to not just impress, but excel. Under Tim Walsh’s tutelage, the better known names of Caslick and the pair of Levis are being complemented by the power game of Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea, the outwide speed of Bienne Terita and Madi Ashby, and a host of others ‘pushing through’. They are simply proving to be a cut above the competition.
And to be fair, our men currently being in 3rd spot after two successive silvers following an ordinary 1st round, is hardly something to overly critical about. With known performers such as Longbottom, Roache, Malouf and Turner now being supported by up and comers Dalton, Palmer and co, we are indeed well positioned in the shorter version of the game for a solid tilt at gold and glory in the not too distant future of July in Paris. In all that though, I do note the absence of one Michael Hooper.
And within that, we must be commercial realists and recognise that eyes, so media, so money, goes where the success is. So it is of no surprise to me that my own 16yr old daughter follows the Sevens quite intently to the point where she can name all the women’s players, and most of the men’s. Whereas, while she actually plays XVs she certainly doesn’t have the same level of engagement nor name-recognition familiarity with the national squads of the XV game. Hmmm.
As for Super level, well isn’t that an interesting mix up? Besides the usual pre-season lack of any reliable form, shape or substance among the Aussie Super squads who ‘performed’ on the weekend, (with surely the imploding Rebels so emphatically shanking the Tahs being the highlight), what intrigues me more is the financial and governance states of the franchises and how that may play into giving RA the centralisation opportunity they have been so publicly craving for so long.
See, the Tahs are broke and have offered the keys of their kingdom to RA in return for bailing them out. Simples. The Rebs are also broke and will have to give the keys to RA to stay in the competition beyond this year. Again, simples. The Donkeys are nearly broke, have a withering local game and have crowds smaller than my club’s 4th grade outings; they’ll need to offer contracting and high-performance to RA if only to relieve their finances surely. And while the Reds are in somewhat of a better financial state, they are still near enough to broke that they will likely need to offer contracting and high-performance to RA as well in return for assurances that their assets won’t get stripped.
In the context of all those organisations being paupers, given Rugby Australia has announced the appointment of Peter Horne as the new Director of High Performance of Rugby, alongside David Nucifora as a High Performance Advisor (WTF is that?), RA should be able to get what they have been saying they want – centralisation of HP and contracting. That’s grand. But there are two up-shots of that:
Firstly, be careful what you ask for because you just may get it. RA are in the box position to get what they asked for. So, far from having an excuse on which to hang their hat because they didn’t get what they wanted, they must now produce the results in-keeping with getting what they said they needed. I I’m looking forward to that.
Secondly, if RA want to wrap up their centralised HP and contracting issue lock, stock and barrel, RA now must deal with the Ghosts of Christmas Past and go chat with the Western Force and their in-house Fairy Godmother by way of Twiggy ‘The Baptist’ Forrest. Let’s be clear that the Forcies, backed by their $33Billion patron, are doing quite nicely thank you. They are developing a solid squad, playing in the Currie Cup, and building a really solid local competition. They’re in good shape and doing so much more than anything that’s happening out east to be honest. Their reaction to RA asking for their HP and contracting rights will be interesting to say the least.
Be clear on the history leading into Phil Waugh’s inevitable trip west for a chat:
- RA cut the Forcies. That went well didn’t it?
- RA cut the Forcies and kept the Rebs. That has played out even better.
- RA cut the Forcies, kept the Rebs and then told Twiggy, with his cash-offers and game enhancement moves, to go get bent any number of times.
- Now RA gets to eat a pie of their own making. Again. Would you like sauce with that?
And isn’t it just peachy convenient that there is a spare seat on the RA Board right now…? Hmmm.
But leaving aside the cut and thrust of backroom power politics, I find myself returning to contemplating our dear own Wobbly Wallabies. Oh Wobblies, oh Wobblies, wherefore art thou Wobblies? With our worst World Cup performance in the rear-view mirror and the Lions Tour commencing Saturday 28 June next year (v Western Force in Perth), the Wobblies better be bloody preparing is where they better be.
So it must be said that it was a rare bit of good news for Wobbly fans to hear over the Christmas break that Joe ‘Insane Irish’ Schmidt was taking over the reins. I won’t rehash Eddie Jones. I can’t. I won’t. Not today. But to say that we needed someone unassuming like Joe ‘less said’ Schmidt to be appointed after the twin motormouths of Jones and McHamish made use of the door, is akin to likening a tsunami to a bit of a backwash. Frankly, for me, Joe is about the only ray of sunshine to burst through the cyclone of despair and recrimination that encapsulated late 2023, along with hearing that Dave Nucifora is homeward bound again.
Why do I say that? Because Schmidt is consistently good. How good? Well as a coach he has had consistent success wherever he went. At NZ Provincial level he’s done quite well with Bay of Plenty, the Cru and Auckland Blues. Then he had success in France with Clermont, in Ireland with Leinster and national age-group sides all before being the Irish National Coach, stepping aside in 2019 with a 72.4% win record. And all that was before he headed back to Kiwiland and more success. So we have hired class. And given 93 lads have played in Wobbly Gold in the last three years, he has cattle to choose from. So that gives me hope at least. Throw in Nucifora as well and we may have a kernel of an idea about the place.
Ok, that’s enough from me for an opening gambit. It’s nice to be back. Yes I still have residual anger and latent twitch issues over Eddie Jones and the World Cup. And if I happen across McHamish in a dark alley, well there may be a form of focussed, unspoken communication initiated. But to be fair, while EJ and McHamish left our game in worse shape than they found it and so are worthy of little else other than criticism in my book, at the same time they weren’t personally responsible for the state of Aussie rugby after 20 years of slow motion car crash either. Plenty of others contributed to that. So I must temper myself in that regard.
So here’s to 2024. Here’s to preseason and spewing with heat exhaustion one more time. Here’s to the post training BBQs to try and get lads to show up to training and join in the spewing. Here’s to the harping by the Treasurer to “Pay your fees ya Bastards!”, to the Easter promises of September premiership glories, and here’s to finding your boots at the bottom of a kitbag still enmeshed in the unwashed kit you wore in your lost semi-final of last year, and which is now breeding its own special sort of penicillin of a variety previously unheard of to mankind. Will you look at that? Now it’s reaching out a tenticle to touch my finger…
Welcome 2024. Here I go again…
Thoughts and comments (but forget your prayers) welcome below.