Eddie deserved the boos – but he’s left foundations to build on as Australian rugby picks itself up from rock bottom

Just to get the unpleasantness out of the way. Eddie Jones is a snake.

The players and fans didn’t deserve to be treated the way Eddie treated them. I was one who forked out squillions to go watch the Wallabies at the World Cup.

During the Australia vs Fiji game, the crowd of mostly French people were booing Eddie. I turned around and said, “Why are you booing him?” the Frenchman behind me shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know, because it’s fun.”

At the time I thought it rude but now I will be doing exactly the same, but I will have a better reason than the French did. Also, Hamish McLennan tied himself to Eddie and deserved to go down too. Although he did get Australian Rugby through a tough time he had a massive ego, just like Eddie. Seeing them both riding into the sunset making every excuse was sad. Good luck in Japan, Eddie and don’t come back, mate!

Over the past few years being a rugby union fan in Australia has meant constantly discovering new rock bottoms: the game almost going back to being amateur during the pandemic; historic losses against nations we used to beat by 50 points and a lack of any decent exposure that isn’t Murdoch sticking the boot in like a whining child. I always thought that maybe the upswing will come soon, but it never has. Now, though, I believe we may be on the cusp.

This latest saga has exposed the root of Australia’s issues more than ever before, and although I do fear that the self-appointed old boys club that runs that game may make the same bloody stupid mistakes as they have in the past, I am also hopeful that this is the darkest moment before the dawn. So, in an attempt look on the bright side, here is what I see as the opportunities for Australian rugby moving forward.

 (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

A New Era

With the France debacle behind us and a new head of Rugby Australia, the appointment of Peter Horne as the new director of high performance and new national coach impending, it is a chance to take a breath and reset. They say that it is darkest before dawn and hopefully from 2024 we can begin to see the crack of golden light appear on the horizon.

With new coaches of the Wallabies and Wallaroos there is a chance to change up selections and tactics. This is a journey that must be undertaken.

For all of Eddie’s flaws, I could see that he was at least willing to back young talent. This train of thought must continue, I have always believed that we have enough talent coming through our pathways, however, they need good coaches, clear tactics and a clear identity.

The latter, for me at least, is the biggest one. Having a clear identity informs your style of play and empowers players. This is the key to powerhouses South Africa, with their power approach, New Zealand with their counter attack game, Ireland with their structure and France with their flair. In the past, Australia have been at their best when playing fast-paced and smart rugby, playing with well-thought-out instinct.

The push for centralisation is also key to making the most of the ‘golden decade’. While the details of this are still ongoing and we have the standard state vs state and state vs national barbs there is at least a shared understanding that centralising performance and contract management is a must have, without all states and territories giving up full control.

Exciting Talent

I do not buy for one second that Australia doesn’t have the talent to challenge the top nations in the world. Sure, we don’t have the depth of other nations, but we definitely have the talent.

Just take a look at Maddison Levi in the sevens, an absolute world beater. Sure, we need to build our internal pathways, get back to basics with community and school engagement and strengthen our coaching skills but we also have to recognise where we are. We don’t have the resources of other nations, are in one of the most competitive sports markets in the world and are we are basically starting from scratch, but the willingness and passion within the Australian rugby community is second to none, its just need a chance to shine.

Maddison Levi of Australia runs with the ball to score a try against Brazil during the HSBC SVNS rugby tournament on December 2, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Martin Dokoupil/Getty Images)

To develop our talent, I used to believe the Giteau Law was necessary. It seems logical, ensures our best players are playing in front of Australian crowds while putting them all into a shared system to drive a common result.

However, we just don’t have the resources to fully develop all of these players or provide them with contracts. We need to follow the South African model by scrapping the Giteau Law. This will result in more players going overseas for bigger dollars, however, this allows Australian players to stay in rugby union, continue to develop their skills and ultimately provide greater opportunities for others to stay in the code.

Nearly every Australian player that has gone overseas has come back a more complete player, why not use other countries resources to develop our talent? It worked for South Africa, they just won back-to-back World Cups.

The World Cup gave experience to a suite of our young talent. They were thrown into the deep end and now we get to find out if they will be better for this. As long as it is used as a mental springboard by the new coach, we can be all the better for it.

In 2024 there will be low expectations of the team with such change, this will hopefully remove some of the pressure on their young shoulders and allow them to grow into their roles. Small and consistent gains will be the theme of the next four years. If our players can get better every game, I think we have a true shot at our home World Cup.

Not only do we have exciting player talent, but I can see the green shoots in our coaching stock as well. Coaches like Darren Coleman, Mick Byrne, Les Kiss, Simon Cron, Tim Walsh, Emilee Barton and Stephen Larkham are all developing strongly and get better with each year of experience.

What Rugby Australia really need to focus on though is the development of community coaches, especially as we hopefully move to a more centralised model. Upskilling coached at the grass root has a direct long-term impact on player skills and development. It is critical that not only our young playing talent is nurtured but also our coaching talent.

A target to aim for

With a Lions Tour in 2025, a men’s World Cup in 2027 and a women’s World Cup in 2029 the tag line of a ‘golden decade’ is completely accurate. This has allowed Rugby Australia to forecast revenue and get and leverage $80 million in debt to ensure the long-term viability of the code. This also gives our administration, players and coaches a clear target to aim for. A common goal and in-built urgency to turn over every stone for the good of Australian Rugby.

I am hopeful that all of Australia can get behind the Wallabies and Wallaroos over the next decade, showing the value of the game to new fans and giving new heroes to youngsters across our great country. So, with all of the unpleasantness now behind us lets all put away our swords and remember that this is the game they paly in heaven. Which is where we will be once we have won the Tom Richards Cup, Webb Ellis Cup and the women’s Rugby World Cup, right?

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