It’s hard to defend Australian rugby, when they can’t even defend themselves or their decisions.
The Wallabies were lauded for their defence less than two years ago. They scrapped their way into the World Cup final, showing grit, guts and spirit in 2015. And sometimes for the full 80 minutes.
Yes, they were beaten, not humiliated, by the All Blacks at Twickenham but there was hope – if only for a short period.
Against the odds, the Wallabies had made a fourth World Cup final, remarkable for a country where rugby is now clearly No. 4 of the football codes.
Fast forward 22 months and last weekend’s missed-tackle-a-minute first half of the opening Bledisloe Cup match was a disgrace.
On the field, the so-called ‘merry go round’ defensive system, failed. What does that mean? It means players missed tackles, and missed a lot of them. And missed tackles are excuses. Simple.
Maybe instead of a black jersey running at them, pretend it’s the Bledisloe Cup – grab it. Hold onto it. And don’t let it go. No more excuses. No more missed tackles please.
But for me the real disgrace started off the field, and well before the two teams lined up for the anthems. Well before the All Blacks broke the defensive line again and again. And it was an administrative disgrace.
Back in the day, the days when we knew just how heavy the Bledisloe Cup was, the days when we cheered at the sight of little George Gregan lifting Lord Bledisloe aloft, Australian rugby made decisions that made sense.
For example, the Sydney Bledisloe was considered a must attend event for the rugby loving public.
Senior and junior rugby was not scheduled on the Bledisloe weekend. Meaning people could travel from north, south, east and west to see the Wallabies have a crack, and sometimes even win, and then enjoy some craic of their own.
From Lismore to Cooma, Orange to Coogee, rugby folk toured for the weekend for the Bledisloe weekend.
Often it was part of a club trip, and like many a rugby fan in Canberra could attest, the pre-match banter at The Dolphin in Surry Hills is the stuff of legend for many.
For many from Royals, Wests, Tuggeranong, Queanbeyan, Easts and more. For the many who instead of touring to Sydney last weekend were at Viking Park watching six grades of grand finals, just as they should have been.
Supporting the game that supports them. The fact that the ACT club grand finals were scheduled on the same weekend as the Sydney Bledisloe is exactly why the ARU has no defence when questioning just where the support for the game has gone.
The support is there, but it appears knowing the game, and the people who live it, and love it, is not.
Ok so it’s a small problem and if just 20 percent of the 5,000 who were at Viking Park had gone up to Sydney, it would have only filled another bay at the ‘half empty’ Stadium Australia. A stadium that once bled gold.
So was this scheduling problem just in the ACT? Apparently not. During the commentary on free-to-air last Saturday, the voice of rugby, Gordon Bray, astutely pointed out that many clubs around NSW, and more so in Sydney, had played in their finals that day.
Now this analysis was probably just a chance for Gordon to mention Manly, and one of his favourites the Bungendore Mud Chooks, but it led me to believe the problem was far bigger than the 1,000 or so missed tourists from the ACT.
How many rugby fans were ‘celebrating or commiserating ‘ the end of their season at one of the many rugby clubs around the country last Saturday night? The same night the Wallabies were starting, and evidently ending their Rugby Championship season.
Just how and whom makes such a decision is unknown. And yes, scheduling is tricky and multi layered, but from volunteering at the club canteen to pulling together a four team draw over four countries and a host of broadcasters.
It can be done, and has to be if we are to save this great game. The AFL doesn’t schedule the grand final on the same day as the Melbourne Cup. Cricket Australia wouldn’t start the Boxing Day Test on December 25.
Both options would be absurd. So isn’t it just as absurd to schedule the biggest rugby Test of the year on home soil, on the same day as all your number 1 fans are playing in their biggest Test of the year?
So what’s the solution? What can the ARU do to ensure there’s no club rugby on a Bledisloe weekend and engage with clubs?
What can they do to ensure rugby people, are at the Test match, not their own post match?
Watching the Wallabies with a passing interest on their way to the bar, which sadly is what rugby has become in Australia, when the rest of the rugby world can’t get enough of the game.
What can the ARU do? They could marry the two, and a little bit of money helps too.
Step 1: Ensure just one game of rugby is played on the Bledisloe Cup weekend. And that game is Australia v New Zealand.
Step 2: Offer every club in NSW and the ACT, the chance to purchase tickets to the match at a discounted rate, with 100 per cent of the ticket price going back to the clubs. Yes, 100 per cent going back to the grass roots.
Step 3: Repeat Step 1 and Step 2 for Queensland.
Step 4: Defend like you want to win the Bledisloe Cup and have a crack??? before you get to have any craic.
* Lachlan Searle is a former Wallabies and ACT Brumbies media manager.