What becomes of Australian Rugby?

A bit of a dive into my favourite sport, and what Australia needs to do to fix the downward spiral of the national team.

This week, the Wallabies lost to Wales and ended their World Cup run. It was probably the worst match I've seen the Wallabies play. That's it.

It. Was. The. Worst.

Anyone who watched the Ireland vs. South Africa game on the same weekend, that was a game on another level. If you watched the way the Fiji team played against the Wallabies, you could see it there too. The difference was the sense of national identity and way of playing the game. There is a distinct Irish, South African, Fijian, French, and Kiwi style of play. Attached to that is a national pride in their game.

A loss and a win born from that distinct way of playing is bearable. There is pride in playing that style of game regardless of the cost.

The Wallabies haven't had this for a long, long time.

There is a lot wrong with the state of Australian rugby, its governance, structure and operations that have compounded this issue. But at its heart, Australia has no game, no style and nothing distinctive.

This is symptomatic of Australian professional sport in general, which has prioritised the brilliance of individuals over the team for so long that we’ve forgotten what a team is and what it has to do in order to win.

If we want to save rugby one of the most important things we have to do is articulate what Australian Rugby is and what it looks like.

For the last 20 years, we have adapted the game to suit the players we can put on the field rather than build a specific identity around how we want to play the game. What that means is a completely incoherent message for players and fans: as availability, injury, and age of players change, so too does the game itself. As we swap out yet another underperforming coach, we destroy any stability or coherence that had been building. Every coaching change for the last 15 years has just patched over the deep cracks within the game itself. More important than the game is this national identity of what we want the game to be. What it can be.

The All Blacks, Springboks, Irish, Welsh, Fijians and French all have a clear identity of what they want the game to be and how they want to play it. And what that means is that there is a clear baseline of expectations. There is a default way of playing that these teams can fall back on.

Whereas the Wallabies fall apart.

You can see it in the smaller nations, like the Chileans, the Samoans, and even the Romanians - there is a way of playing this game that they've grown into and they love it. And love is what’s missing from the Wallabies. There is little to love about the way we are playing the game. Yes, there are individuals who can exhibit brilliance in every game - it’s far from a team effort, and it’s far from consistent. The hero of one game becomes the villain of the next. As tactics change and teams adapt to those individuals so goes our fortune.

Rather than dwell on what went wrong, I think it's time for us to have a bigger discussion about what we want rugby to be and how we as a nation want to play it.

It’s not to undercut the problems with the organisation and at the grassroots - but we’re never going to solve those until we can articulate what rugby in Australia should be.

Getting this vision right ensures that all the required changes and what must be built to strengthen the game have a shared purpose.

Setting down the foundation of the game that we want to see will attract the right players and coaches. It will aid rather than hinder recruitment and talent development. We’ll spend money in the right places on the right players with the right skill set to play the game of rugby we want to see.

What do I want to see?

The problem we have is not the quality of the players; it's that we don't play as a team, and we don't play as a nation. We don't take risks because we fear failure. We don’t play cohesively because we don’t play as a team with clarity of visions and purpose.

Some of this comes back to how we’ve structured our domestic teams. Rather than reflecting a distinctive national form of the game, each state franchise that feeds the professional game plays an entirely different style of game. To expect these players to form a cohesive structure and style of play is ridiculous. This starkly contrasts New Zealand, where the teams play a cohesive Kiwi game with slight variations.

We have to do better, and it starts with creating a vision for what we want the Wallabies to be and how we want them to play!