I was dragged up in the world of unlimited tackle rugby league on the coalfields. A time of wet Saturdays where glue-like churns of cricket pitch mud turned local games into wet ugly propositions of no quarter given. Then in the late sixties and seventies I was slowly seduced into the foreign art of rugby union through the ABC’s Saturday coverage of the Sydney competition. Post Depression sensibilities meant that there was no colour television in our house. One waited for such things. One bided one’s time before making such an extravagant purchase. We didn’t need one. The prism of enlightenment was a flickering black and white television screen and it was more than enough because what I saw was a world that was tough, fast but ultimately terribly exciting.
When Kenny Catchpole and the Ellas (Rube, Quin and Rose) danced the wonderful magic and a flowing mane of hair called Russell Fairfax dropped kicked from half-way all was well with the world. Even on wet Saturdays I was happy to be thoughtfully lectured by a science teacher-like Trevor Allan in the art of rugby and warmed by the bonhomie of Norman ‘Nugget’ May. Trevor Allan, a Wallaby of distinction, was no shirker. He was typical of the era, he played above his weight, firmly and fairly and without fuss. As a teenager he shared an ice-run with one of his brothers and would haul 28-pound blocks of ice on a hook in either hand sometimes climbing three or four flights of stairs to make the delivery. He didn’t let opportunity melt in his hand, he had a job to do – it was that simple.
This was a time when I felt that all was good with the world. The ginger nuts weren’t falling into your cup of tea and the mail was getting through. I knew that blokes who worked in a bank or at the local school were turning up and having a go. Some decades later in 1999 when Stephen Larkham kicked a field goal in extra time to beat the Yarpies with his Dad’s ringing endorsement “He’s never kicked a field goal in his life” this ‘have-a-go’ spirit was still alive. And in Wellington in 2000, we saw an impossible victory with the towering big fella John Eales booting a penalty goal and clasping the Bledisloe Cup ever so closely as if it held his Nonna’s special pomodora recipe. I smiled with relief that ‘we’ had done it….it just doesn’t get any better. And it didn’t. We moved into the funk. We were becalmed despite some interesting times and then we entered the ark ages when the vandals from the north turned the lights off. A time when England made ten man rugby successful again.
And so to now. After a stumblebum performance against the Pumas a week or so ago Australian Rugby has it’s neck securely held in the national laughing-stock. Despite a scrambling one point win against the Meat Lovers people rightly lined up to throw corn, enchiladas and fruit at this rag-tag bunch of poor struggling boofheads. Then at the same time as Ewen McKenzie was lauded as the “new beginning of Australian Rugby” by Fairfax Media, the Little ‘O’ (James O’Connor) was refused access to a flight to Bali due to the island having exceeded their September Bogan Quota.
But if Ewen is the new beginning I really want a touch of back-to-the–future. Nothing against Ewie mind you, he’s having a go, but despite panning a few flecks of gold with the Reds I don’t think he is the answer. I don’t think he has the ability to challenge and to create something new. He is of the old school of potatoes and corned meat with white sauce (and there is nothing wrong with that) but it is a new game and we haven’t adapted very well.
I’ll be honest with you unlike a lot of people who bother to write about rugby – I don’t know anything about the game. But a lack of knowledge obviously hasn’t stopped some people so why should I stay in the shed. However what I do know is that the current national team plays like a bunch of tight-skirted, moon-shined hillbillies. They have delivered to us a couple of years of tosh and broken promises under coach Deans. And now under Coach McKenzie we were promised a change but we got the same old, sad, tired game that has been trotted out for a decade. Is this the best we can do?
You see to me the logical choice for a new coach was Jake ‘the Peg’ White. White coached the Brumbies to an unlikely Super Final and they were the only provincial team to have a win against the touring Lions on a bitingly cold evening in Dull Town. ‘Peg’s’ problem was despite his success (and being a South African) he didn’t fit the bill according to the ARU’s current “thinking”. If I can I will try to paraphrase the ARU’s current thinking – it’s high order stuff so you may struggle to understand – it goes like this;
“Let’s think for a minute…. We tried a foreigner but it’s gone pear-shaped and ‘Computer’ doesn’t get on with him…we should go for home-grown talent…take your time….oh bugger we don’t have any…mmm ok who hasn’t been DUI in the last twelve months…has he got a suit? “
That’s about it. That’s the current thinking that’s guiding our poor boys. So my suggestions are these. Firstly, a good old-fashioned weed-out. Get rid of self-centred inked dopes like the Little ‘O’, Computer’ and any other flash Harry who thinks they can piss-up the privilege of playing for their country and put in decent, hard-working blokes who will have a red-hot go until their legs fall off. But that’s only the start. Then let’s try something new. The plan is we put ‘Nobody’, ‘Noddy’, ‘Bernie’, ‘Bumshaft’, ‘Biscuits’, ‘Boxhead’ and anyone else who can tie up their shoe laces in a room for a week. We give them plenty of biros, butchers paper and Bundy. Their task is to come up with a new style of rugby.
We then march forward – we have a new plan – in fact it’s an old plan. We get out of the funk. We actually try to do things differently, completely differently – like catching the ball. Now wouldn’t that put things back in black and white again?