When tasked with writing about “The State of Australian Rugby” and asked to take a “light-hearted angle”, I wondered how in the hell I could find the funny side of what is a truly serious issue.
Very foolishly, I decided to wait until Sunday to start writing as I wanted to see just what was to happen between the Wallabies and the Argies. Having had a sinkful of diesel the night before and feeling like a used condom, I sat looking longingly at the screen of my laptop on what was a dreary Sunday arvo.
With little will to start writing and having pulled out what little hair I have left, I decided I’d earnt myself a break and moseyed 100m down the road to my local rugby club, Wests Bulldogs, to have a few tinnies and watch a bit of footy to help clear my head.
It was here over the following 6 hours that I saw exactly what state Australian rugby is in… and it couldn’t have put me anymore at ease (mentally at least, not so much physically).
It just so happened to be the start of the semi-finals for the 1st Annual Brisvegas 7s, a local 7s tournament hosting 500 players, 45 teams, 5 divisions, over 3 days and 110 games! All of this was organised in large part by a woman by the name of Felicity (Flick) Bennetts.
Flick’s much adored mother, Linda, has been at the club so long that Flick was sleeping in a bassinet behind the speaker at The Kennel on Saturday nights from 2 weeks of age… She’s now 32.
Bennetts and Co. were able to bring together a 3 day event of this magnitude, an event she says is a “massive achievement ticked off the bucket list.” All for nothing more than for the love of the game.
Having shown up to The Kennel a little worse for wear, I decided to park myself down in front of the many TVs around the venue and indulge in a few sherbets. It just so happened to coincide with the kick-off of the Brisbane City vs. Greater Sydney Rams NRC match from Warringah’s Rat Park.
As the first few sips went down like razorblades, I was pleasantly surprised to see two teams going hammer and tong at each other defensively, while showcasing an enterprising level of attack.
It was then that I noticed the 9, 10, 12 combo running around for Brisbane City. It read:
9. Frisby 10. Cooper 12. Hunt
Three Wallabies playing in a semi-professional match alongside the lesser-known Premier Grade toilers like Dan Gorman and Jeremiah Lynch. Top-tier professional rugby players playing with and against the everyday heroes of local club rugby is something that hasn’t been seen much since the advent of the professional era but can only mean that collectively, the game benefits.
Andrew James, Senior Manager of Legal and Strategic Projects (essentially he runs the NRC and negotiates playing contracts, collective bargaining with RUPA – all things player related) at the ARU, said on the Rugby Round Up Podcast recently that “the life blood of the game, the grassroots, can’t see a connection to the professional game.” This is considerably damning considering 95% of the money the ARU earns is through the professional part of our game.
However, his idea to have tickets sold to Wallabies fixtures through local clubs, with said clubs pocketing a share of tickets sold, is something the old heads would have scoffed at in years gone by. He’s a relatively young bloke, but it’s minds inside the ARU like AJ’s that ease the tension when discussing the state of the game, and in particular, the future of rugby in Australia.
Having earlier watched the Wallabies eke out a win against an Argentine team that dropped more pills than a high school dropout at a warehouse rave, the idea that the game in Australia is so reliant on the professional game yet struggles to find “a connection” to the general rugby supporting population is ludicrous.
Support for the grassroots over the past decade has been almost negligible, and as you sow so shall you reap.
So with a second wind and the Grand Finals of the Elite Women’s and Men’s matches kicking off at the BrisVegas 7s, I found myself still a little queasy but considerably at ease compared to a few hours earlier. For this time, the unnerving feeling I was experiencing wasn’t for the state of the game in Australia, but more so the culmination of a few too many arvo lemonades and several recent poor life decisions.
So, how is the “State of Australian Rugby” at the moment? Honestly, it’s no laughing matter, but it’s no Greek Tragedy either. Things are not as dire as many so vehemently lead you to believe. Things are tough right now, but as long as the Felicity Bennetts and Andrew James’ of the world keep doing what they’re doing, then I’m positive things will be fine.
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