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FEATURE Carter Gordon and the Rebels without a cause

Carter Gordon and the Rebels without a cause
4 months ago

‘She’ll be right’. It has been the clarion call for Australian sport for so very long. Cometh the hour, and the Aussie man, woman or sporting team will unfailingly appear at peak performance. Right now, cracks in the foundations of Australian rugby keep showing up, and there is precious little evidence of it all coming together on opening night.

The return of the prodigal son, Eddie Jones, probably the most experienced active coach in international rugby [Warren Gatland might argue], was supposed to cure all ills, right the wrongs of the Dave Rennie era and turn the World Cup into a celebration of the enduring value of green and gold. Whatever the problems, Eddie would fix them.

In the event, it all finished in tears. The Wallabies produced the worst performance in their illustrious history, Jones was sacked and man who appointed him, Hamish McLennan, was forcibly removed from his position as RA chairman.

The Rebels have been buffeted by financial problems as the Super Rugby Pacific season looms (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

It is now 10 years since an Australian club last achieved a Super Rugby title, and the contests between New Zealand and Australia have become ever more tilted towards the All Blacks. The latest visible piece of the Australian rugby iceberg to break off is the Melbourne Rebels franchise, which entered voluntary administration on Monday evening.

The failure of the club was linked to the collapse of a string of companies under the BRC Capital umbrella, owned by Melbourne businessman Paul Docherty. Six subsidiaries which provide $100,000 sponsorship to the Rebels have been placed into administration over the past two months, and another four have been wound up or liquidated.

RA has offered to pick up the slack and ensure the Rebels play out the full season, but exactly how will they go about fulfilling new CEO Phil Waugh’s Tuesday statement of intent?

“As custodians of the game, we are determined to ensure Rugby Australia is making responsible decisions for a sustainable and successful future,” Waugh said. “We will work with the Rebels and the relevant stakeholders to that end.

“Through our strong partnership – forged through decades of staging major events in Melbourne – our focus is to work with the Victorian Government and its key agencies, including Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust, to ensure the Rebels’ participation in the 2024 Super Rugby season and the continuation of professional rugby in the state.”

RA wants to move towards a more centralised ‘Irish’ model but it does not have the financial clout to invest in its individual operators.

There is a lot at stake in the capital of Victoria, which was mooted to host at least one fixture on the 2025 British and Irish Lions tour, and the Rugby World Cup final two year later.

There is a Gordian knot which needs to be severed, or untied. The organisation which is now offering to provide a solution also helped in large measure to create the problem. As The Roar’s resident rugby expert Geoff Parkes observed in his excellent weekly column: “Four years ago, franchises received an annual grant of $5.5m AUD, which Rugby Australia cut by $1.7m AUD during covid. Despite franchises receiving assurances funding would be restored to pre-covid levels and, not unreasonably, budgeting on that basis, realisation has set in this shortfall – now totalling $6.8m – will never be made up.”

RA wants to move towards a more centralised ‘Irish’ model but it does not have the financial clout to invest in its individual operators. There is no Super Rugby broadcast deal in place post-2025, and that coincides with a new cycle when Rebels players and coaches will be out of contract and looking for a new job. The ‘Rebels risk’ may yet extend to the Brumbies in Canberra, the original expansion franchise in Australia. ‘She’ll be right’ does not cut the mustard in a new era of uncertainty, filtering as it does all the way from the top of the game downwards.

The sincerity of the new leadership may not be in doubt. It may earnestly want to match action to the words of new RA chairman Daniel Herbert, the “need to put the foundations in, [the] need to get the right people in and [the] need to get unity”. But that stability and cohesion comes with a price tag. It is bought dearly and it has a concrete parallel in the attitude towards coaching and coach education.

Carter Gordon
Carter Gordon endured a bruising World Cup, and was replaced as first-choice fly-half by Ben Donaldson (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the most urgent questions in that parallel universe is what becomes of Carter Gordon? He was rightly touted as one of the bright young talents of 2023 at fly-half. He has the tools and physical potential to be a Test-match operator with 60+ caps to his name. But thus far, Australian player development has done everything in its power to derail rather than accelerate his career.

Rewind to 2021, and [then] Wallaby head coach Rennie taking a huge punt on Quade Cooper in the Rugby Championship. It came off resoundingly well, and there was every sign Cooper embodied the mature influence every Australian rugby supporter hoped he would eventually become. He could still pull the odd rabbit out of a hat, but there was solidity in his on-field leadership, and the desire to help others off it.

Cooper was in full bloom, and all Jones had to do in the build-up to the World Cup was cosset him in cotton wool, keep him injury-free and bring him fresh to the tournament proper. Instead, Cooper was rudely cast out of the squad entirely after only two games against South Africa and Argentina. Everything the man himself had so clearly learned, and all the precious substance he had accumulated throughout a rollercoaster career, went with him.

Gordon was anointed as the chosen one well ahead of his time, and all too predictably he was dumped after a failure of confidence in the loss to Fiji in the second pool match. He was replaced for the final two games by a man who had up to that point been rated as the second-best 10 at the Waratahs, Ben Donaldson.

It was impossible to argue with Sonny-Bill Williams’ post-game assessment on Stan Sports: “I feel for Carter Gordon right now, because he doesn’t have a Quade Cooper or a Bernard Foley to go back to at the hotel and pull him aside and say, ‘Look, these things happen’.

“It’s really tough seeing him get pulled like that. I am going to call it how it is. We are in a high-performance arena and sometimes you live and die by your decisions. Eddie Jones got found out, unfortunately.

“Moving forward, what are [Australia] going to do about Carter Gordon? Personally, I would love to see Carter get another shot, just for the young man’s confidence. He’s been there or thereabouts the whole time for the last six or seven weeks. For him to be pulled out like that would be a tragedy.”

Jones saw it all as part and parcel of a painful apprenticeship, but it is common sense only to throw a man in the deep water when you are confident he is able to swim; and if he cannot, have a lifeguard ready to hand, a Cooper to glide to his assistance. As it was, the odds were never in Gordon’s favour at the start of what should by rights be a long and well-starred international career.

The long-term psychological damage from that rough entry to the international game is anyone’s guess, but Gordon’s rehab will not be improved by the knowledge he is now effectively on a one-year contract, with no job security beyond 2024. It is the polar opposite of ‘stability’ and ‘cohesion’.

All any player wants is a working platform to display their wares, the chance to play within a successful team culture capable of winning silverware, and coaching which brings out the best of their ability in an organic process of improvement. One of the brightest talents in Australian rugby has neither of those things.

At such a time it seems only right to dwell on the positives and promise of a gifted young fly-half. If he can find the right cultural and coaching environment, Gordon will be the next number 10 star for the Wallabies. It was never showcased with Jones’ World Cup charges, but Gordon can be a top-shelf kicker either very long for position, or very short in attack.

 

 

 

Gordon is most uncomfortable when asked to make calculated kicks of intermediate length, and naturally this was the main demand made of him at the World Cup. Give him a simple instinctive aim, and more often than not, he will hit the target.

Aggression, not calculation, is the keystone of his game. As a playmaker, Gordon is at his best when he turns north-south quickly and challenges the gain-line with ball in hand.

 

 

Even as a tackler, the Melburnian is not one to manoeuvre his opponents into the corner he wants, or use the touchline as his friend. He wants to take his foes head on.

 

The same lung-bursting running power grants him high quality in cover defence, a big plus for the modern 10.

 

 

If the new sincere and unified version of Rugby Australia is to succeed, it needs to provide platforms for its young players to prosper.

If that means reducing the five-franchise format to four or even three, so be it. RA must have a clear and affordable sense of purpose, not promising heaven on earth like Jones and McLennan. It must deliver a garden it knows it can tend.

There is no room for rash promises or the ‘she’ll be rights’ anymore, and that would suit Gordon just fine. Give him the back-up he knows he can rely on. Give him a club with a chance of winning something, and coaches who know how to maximise his growth. That would do very nicely indeed, thank you.

Comments

51 Comments
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Ardy 130 days ago

Carter Gordon is the most naturally gifted 10 we have had in the last 15 years. Eddie Jones almost destroyed the guys confidence and basically could not care less. If Joe Schmidt brings him on we could have a truly world class 10 with a couple of other youngsters to keep him honest.
Not sure where the backup will come from but in the right environment all 3 or 4 tens with talent in Will Harrison, Reesjan Pasitoa, Tane Edmed and Tom Lynagh, one of them will stand up.

M
Mzilikazi 131 days ago

Gordon…….”Give him the back-up he knows he can rely on. Give him a club with a chance of winning something, and coaches who know how to maximise his growth.”

I first read your article this morning, Nick. I had just finished watching that incredible game down in Marseilles, where another young 10, Jack Crowley, had played his part, not always perfect, in what is probably Ireland’s greatest win over France.

As I read your words on Carter Gordon, I thought of the pathway this young player has followed, compared to that of Jack Crowley.

Crowley, born in Innishannon in West Cork, has always had a strong system to guide him in the game of rugby. First Bandon Rugby Club, then Bandon Grammar School, and into senior rugby with with Cork Constitution, one of Munster and Ireland’s great clubs. From there he moved into the Munster professional system. Thus he has always had “…….the back-up he knows he can rely on. ……..a club with a chance of winning something, and coaches who know how to maximise his growth.” Especially the latter !

Carter Gordon’s path is less easy to research from my laptop. He was born, like Crowley, in a small rural town, Nambour, a sugar town in Qld. Gordon says in one peice I found “ And like from a young age, with my old man, my family, my little brother plays Australia Under 20s … we’re a Rugby-mad household. And playing professionally was always a goal as a kid. I’ve never really got into rugby league or AFL or anything like that. I played some touch on the side and some summer sports.”

He did finish his schooling at the powerful Brisbane Boys College, where he would have had top class coaching. Post school Gordon played for the Wests club in Brisbane, had some time training with the Qld. Reds, and then on to the Rebels in Melbourne.

So Gordon’s path has been very different to that of Jack Crowley. But for this year at least, if Gordon is selected in the WB’s squad, he will come under the influence of a world class coach, Joe Schmidt, and without doubt, a very strong coaching team. At 22, Gordon is two years younger than Crowley. I wonder if at 24 years of age, Carter Gordon and Jack Crowley will face each other playing for their countries ? I hope so !

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Shaylen 131 days ago

What you said about having an old experienced hand to pull him aside or take over the responsibility is absolutely true Nick. Just look at what Rassie did at the world cup bringing in Pollard for Marx and then using him to guide Manie Libbok and eventually just taking over for him when he was out of his depth. It was a masterclass in player management. Aussies really need 4 franchises. Going to 4 franchises will strengthen each one and give them more financial clout, it will generate stronger players as experience is concentrated and young players can learn from experienced players and develop. It also concentrates the coaching and gives them the opportunity to grow. RA cant handle 5 franchises any more than South Africa could handle six in Super Rugby. Now that SA has 4 the clear benefits in player and squad development is becoming apparent in SA Rugby with experienced players returning and young players getting their shot alongside them. Franchise have bigger salary caps and they are using them to recruit the best talent which is helping to develop the best talent. Sometimes less is more

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Otagoman II 131 days ago

Thanks NB. Where does Gordan fit in with the Schmidt Wallabies? I’m guessing he will also need to be goal kicking at around 80% as well.

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john 131 days ago

Gordon is a fantastic talent but the Tahs will set out to cripple his career so one of their players gets selected, like they did Quade Cooper’s. That’s how they work.

d
d 131 days ago

Thanks Nick. I'd love to keep all five teams but I can see the realities of both options. The management have to make tough decisions and some are going to be unpopular!

Great analysis about Gordon. Be fascinating to see how they all respond to the 23 disaster. I hope that burning desire is there but it would be very tough.

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Adrian 131 days ago

Thanks Nick, another top article touching on the uncomfortable bits of Australian Rugby.

Yes, common sense, money and depth says fewer SR teams IF there will indeed be SRP beyond 2025.

The depth issue is 100% related to money, not whether or not we produce young players. What should be the depth of our SR teams is actually the 100+ Australian SR standard players spread across England, France and Japan. They do it for money, and much more money than SRP pays.

Keeping the Rebels SR team will just exacerbate the problem.

There is another way of course to keep the Melbourne team (and the Brumbies and Force and the other two) which involves keeping all 5 current SR teams playing in an NRC type comp. No pain from cutting teams and fewer dollars.

At the same time, beg, plead or bribe the Japanese to let us enter 1 or 2 yet to be created teams into their lucrative comp (NZ might ask too)

Japan wouldn't accept all teams as it would dilute their status, though not necessarily their standard.

Short of a sugar daddy with $200m+ there is just no future for SRP and a high quality competition in our part of the world. We have to accept this and try other options IMO

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