Prune the Bush to make the the Vine Grow Stronger

Posted by John Gates on

From 28 March, 2017

The Wallabies need to remember their proud, winning history. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

The golden era of Australian rugby was the 1980s and early ’90s, regularly beating the best teams and producing some of the most exciting players the world has seen.

What’s interesting is that we didn’t have an NPC or a Currie Cup. There was no Super Rugby. We just had a great club system and we played our brand of rugby.

We taught ourselves to play the running game and prided ourselves on it.

The whole World Cup movement began in Australia in 1987, starting the whole global rugby movement that we have now become the victims of.

Why did we push for it? Because we were doing do well we craved recognition. We believed we could beat the world.

In the glory days of the ’80s, when the Ella brothers reigned supreme, the flat backline style developed by the likes of Cyril Towers and the Randwick club was quintessentially Australian.

Glenn Ella taking pictures of the England players

Yes, it was important to embrace the professional era and it was inevitable that we would all start moulding our styles of play around common denominators, but somewhere we forgot to play the Aussie way.

I have always assumed that, in a sporting context, ‘Test’ meant you would play your game in isolation from other countries and then, every so often, ‘test’ yourself against another country’s style.

But somewhere along the way we began to play too many Super Rugby games and too many Tests, so that we have lost the concept of testing ourselves.

More local derbies. More law interpretations. More games, generally. More of the same, drab press reporting, where most of the journalists turn up to pressers and ask mundane questions, just for the sake of airtime and noise, questions we already know the answers to.

Generally, Super 12, 14 and 15 were, initially OK as a format, with everyone playing each other once, but every form of entertainment needs freshening up now and then, and SANZAAR went too far with it.

Is it not time that we said enough?

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Super Rugby has improved many things. We have five franchises and the NRC, but we should now be saying to New Zealand and South Africa, “Thanks, we’ll go it alone for a while. We’ll re-discover the Aussie running game. Come and play us in Test matches – just not so many every year, because our calendar is full.”

Stop trying to build ‘mega’ or ‘super’ comps. Let’s not worry about NRL or AFL.

Let’s work out a way to have a truly national club comp, with NRC and Super Rugby over the top. Let’s pull out of SANZAAR altogether and play a proper trans-Tasman comp. If the Kiwis don’t want to be in it, fine.

Maybe we could put something back into the game with five Aussie franchises and the Pacific Islands. Put it out on free-to-air and then aggressively find sponsors who want the TV coverage. Try to bring back players from overseas – there is the equivalent of two Super franchises playing in Europe and Japan.

Super Rugby is a tired model and SANZAAR doesn’t know what to do with it.

The Rugby Championship could stay, but I would love to back to tours (inbound and outbound, with Barbarians games mixed in) to re-discover the whole wonderful fabric of our game, centred around a truly national club comp and a second and third tier in the mix, somehow. That is how we will broaden the player base.

We are different in so many ways to NRL and AFL. Vive la difference!


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