The ‘bakers dozen’ of issues causing Australian rugby’s onfield woes – and a possible way out

Since the end of the Rugby World Cup I have read many articles and comments surrounding the game’s future in Australia. There’s a lot of of thinking which I see is valid and would seem worthwhile in further investigation.

What I have noticed though is a lack of any consolidated list of the key issues which impacted the onfield performance of the Wallabies, so brutally exposed during the World Cup, and the performance of our Super Rugby teams more generally. In this article I’ve elected to focus on performance at the elite level, but I don’t intend to lessen the need for actions associated with matters at the community, club and stakeholder level more generally.

Henry Palmer in preseason action for the Brumbies in Japan. Photo: Brumbies Media

Against that background and based on my own homework, I would submit any consolidated list of failures includes the following:

1) Decisions and actions of Rugby Australia (RA) over the past 3 years.
2) Limited time for the new coach to build coaching and player cohesion.
3) Over-reliance on inexperienced players at the World Cup.
4) Inadequate exposure of players to high pressure situations.
5) Inadequate fitness and conditioning programs.
6) Lack of effective mentorship for emerging talents.
7) Insufficient competitive exposure for players.
8) Limited depth in critical positions.
9) Inconsistent captaincy and leadership appointments.
10) Inconsistent game management strategies and tactical approaches during matches.
11) Lack of adaptability to different opposition game plans and playing style.
12) Players lacking situational awareness – especially when under pressure.
13) Players lacking match fitness and conditioning at the elite level.

This is a significant list which provides an indication of the performance related issues which RA, together with its stakeholders, will need to address if genuine and sustainable onfield change is to happen. This can reasonably be expected to be achieved through the development and resourcing of a dedicated program of works.

That said, I have taken the liberty of demonstrating how a single focus can impact a range of identified issues (more specifically, referring to items 4-8).

In general terms, these items identify a need to provide players and coaches with more exposure to competitive games which in turn would provide players and coaches with the opportunity to improve skills, decision making, situational awareness, fitness and conditioning.

I acknowledge there is no shortage of discussion around expanding or contracting Super Rugby – however any such change requires multi party negotiation and agreement. What is needed is a solution that RA and the Super Clubs can agree and implement and quickly, not in 3 years time.

Against that background, I once again promote the concept of a 5 round competition comprising each Super Rugby team in turn playing against a team selected from the ‘other’ 4 Super Rugby teams. This team would be selected by the incoming High Performance Director and Wallaby coach, coached by the Wallaby coach.

Wallabies Angus Bell and Robert Leota celebrate a try. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The format can provide fans of each Super Rugby team to have another ‘home’ game and the wider rugby community gets an extra five weeks of elite level rugby matches to watch.

I have yet to hear how RA can address the issues raised in items 4-8 without arranging a program which gives elite players and coaches additional game time against elite level competition. No doubt there will be challenges, particularly with scheduling/programming and concerns about player injuries, but rugby is a contact sport and injuries can happen at any time, whether during a game or at training.

The proposed five match series would be a modified Super Rugby AU series, could be broadcast on ‘free to air’ or as more content for Stan Sport, could be played as a mid-week competition and could also be applied to the Under 19 competition, who would play their games as a preliminary game to the Super series.

It’s worth a thought, because as we can see there’s a lot of ground to make up.

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