2014 seems so long ago for Waratahs fans

It is hard to believe that in 2014 the Waratahs were Super Rugby Champions and minor premiers after watching them go down to the Force 40-11 and knowing that the Force might be the one for the axe for next season. In 2014, I wrote about complacency and leading into the spring tour and as a die hard fan of the Waratahs it is hard to believe we could fall so far so fast in just three seasons but then again, is it really that surprising?

Why is Rugby in Australia so lost?

Well you cannot expect the game to flourish when your focus is entirely at the top tier with little to no emphasis on the development pathways that keep your talent lines afloat.

Back in 2014 the rugby admin was still advocating a Wallaby first approach and having gone through a number of World Cups parachuting top tier League players into our backline you send a message to the existing rugby players that no matter how well you are doing at club rugby there is every chance that someone from another code with more profile may get slid in front of you to keep the news talking about the code while the grass roots supporters lose their minds in the process.

Did the Wallaby First Focus pay off?

Well if you only isolate your view to World Cup performances then at face value it would appear so. 2003 and 2015 we managed make the final, third in 2011 and the less said about 2007 the better. Peppered through out were high profile league players featuring prominently. I say no if you think long term.

14 years is a long time. That is long enough for an entire rugby generation to move on. I still remember Nathan Sharpe being one of the last X-Gen players to go and he was even held back for an additional tour to captain when we found ourselves in a pinch. Cannot imagine that happening in New Zealand. The Y Generation is moving through now and then what will be of the i-Generation. Do they even notice rugby now?

How to kill a code in 16 years?

Let’s discuss. First, pour all your money into the end of your talent funnel. This means paying big dollars for elite players ‘built’ outside your ordinary channels in plain view of your up and comers.

Now don’t get me wrong – I cheered those players as much as anyone. NSW housed many of the converts and I do not blame the players for switching. I am just objectively looking at how this may seem when you have been busting a gut to make a rep side only to have someone jump in the small window a professional sport person has in a physical sport like rugby.

Overlooking home code talent no matter how good the converts sends a strong signal to those from the Rugby faithful that you think they will stay regardless of anything you do. For the most part you are right in the case of fans. Their rugby memory often lies in the past.

Some blokes (like me in the X-generation) will love the game no matter what. We still remember the glory days of 1991-1999 to soften the heartache of 2003. However the 2015 final finish masks a greater risk and that is that our code has been struggling for longer than you think.

The players we need to attract in the years ahead will not have even been born when the victories that have sustained my mob for so long were made. You only have to look at a rugby program to see the birth years climbing and birth years in the 2000’s will be a sobering thought for many when they arise.

Death by generational change

15 years is a long time in rugby years. Very few players last that long.

So if rugby years were measured like dog years you might think differently about your development program in terms of what is considered “long term”. Management will see the impact of their decisions.

“Rugby Generations are shorter than standard generations measured in terms of Baby Boomers, X or Y Generations. 10-15 years is a long playing lifespan and that is if you a lucky with injury. You simply cannot overlook grass roots for 15 years and not pay a heavy price down the track. It is inevitable, and this is why we see the short term recruitment policies of seasons past coming home to roost right now” ~ Will Camphin

To grow the game you need to bring new players to the game to become fans like me. Without them in less than a decade you will be stretched thin and eyes will be elsewhere. You can see this already now. On the plus side you can see results relatively quickly if changes are made too but that is as long as you do not let it fester too long so that you pass a point of no return.

Australia’s woes is best understood when you see where Australian Rugby spends it’s money. This interview on the ABC with Brett Papworth hits it right on the head.

Some of the stats raised in ABC’s “The Business” episode include:

  • Rugby spends and earns $120 million according to Papworth:
    • 0.1% to the top 200 players with only
    • about $4 million to 99.9% of the grass roots participants.
  • $6m (over 5 years) to get rid of the Rebels!
  • Some of the spend used to funding losses at Super club gate figures coming up 50% short losing $1-$2m each.
  • Sponsors leaving at elite level but shifts going back to club rugby.

All the while AFL drawing the teenagers away playing the smarter long game as we watch our rugby management following the elite development path to oblivion.

Brett Papworth is right about club rugby.

I watched the Northern Suburbs Bears win the Shute Shield in 2016 at their home ground and speaking with some of the players afterwards at their club house I was reminded of why I love rugby. We need to get back to this and if there are some poor showings over a transitional period so be it. I mean it cannot get much worse. The conference system is not hiding the truth from anyone who takes a look for more than a few seconds at the points each team has accrued.

Australia has dropped to 4th on the IRB rankings now. Can we pull another rabbit out of the hat?

2017 home Bledisloe Cup & Rugby Championship Tests

Date Time Teams Venue
19 Aug 8:00 PM Wallabies vs New Zealand ANZ Stadium, Sydney
26 Aug 5:35 PM New Zealand vs Wallabies Forsyth Barr Stadium
9 Sep 8:00 PM Wallabies vs South Africa NIB Stadium, Perth
16 Sep 8:00 PM Wallabies vs Argentina Canberra Stadium
1 Oct 1:05 AM South Africa vs Australia Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
8 Oct 9:30 AM Argentina vs Australia Estadio Malvinas Argentinas
21 Oct 8:00 PM Wallabies vs New Zealand Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

When ever there is two teams out there it is possible but after seeing our performances against the likes of Scotland, Fiji and Italy there is an overwhelming amount of work to do. Now the northern hemisphere, particularly Wales, would be looking forward to seeing how we come through this Rugby Championships as they can certainly spell blood in the water already.

2017 End of Year Tour

Date Time (AEST) Teams Venue
4 Nov TBC Japan vs Wallabies TBC
12 Nov 4:15am Wales vs Wallabies Principality Stadium, Cardiff
19 Nov TBC England vs Wallabies Twickenham, London
26 Nov TBC Scotland vs Wallabies Murrayfield, Edinburgh

It is frightening to think about our win loss ratio at the end of these campaigns on current form but as a die hard fan, I cannot look away even if I wanted to. I will be supporting them right to the end. I just hope that Rugby begins the path the rebuild itself and it is not the die hards left to turn out the lights in a few years time.

Tweetables:

A Generation in rugby is shorter than you think – [Tweet this now]

Wallaby first focus is no longer working   – [Tweet this now]

Brett Papworth is right about club Rugby – [Tweet this now]

 

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