ARU hoping to be dragged back into good books on Lions' tail

Sat, Feb 2, 2013, 00:00

As Warren Gatland said, Australia is a great place to tour. Great hotels, great stadiums, great transport infrastructure, great beaches, great beer, great wine, great food and unlike Europe, the Australian government ditched austerity and pumped money into the community so the economy is great too.

Yep, it is all “great, mate”. So if it is all so great in Oz, why will Australian rugby be watching this Six Nations with a searing sense of desperation?

Australian rugby needs to beat the Lions more than the Lions need to beat Australia.

Robbie Deans’ staff will be pulling apart each Six Nations match with ferocious intensity. They will be compiling files on each player and the tracking the systems each Lions coach, like England assistant coach Andy Farrell, will use in the tournament. Searching for an Australian advantage and a potential Lions weakness.

The 2001 Lions tour was a watershed moment in Australian sport. The high-spirited Lions supporters that packed the stadiums across the nation caught the AFL and Rugby League-dominated media completely by surprise. From singing Viva Bris-Vegas on the trains in Queensland, to drinking Melbourne pubs dry (that would never happen in a rugby town like Sydney), to huge parties on Manly Beach.

The fun and passion the Lions brought to Australia made the competitive juices of the Australian sporting community boil. The response was the country united behind the Wallaby team like never before.

The Lions brought the power and cash of the global economy and it brought the might of the rugby world to the attention of the introspective AFL and Rugby League media. Australians could not get enough of it. The Wallaby trademark was on top of the Australian sporting world.

Today all that has changed. Rugby in Australia is in a dire position.

Charge and roar

The ARU are praying the Lions will once again charge and roar across Australia so they can grasp hold of its considerable tail and be dragged back into the Australian sporting public’s good books and get a few “quid” in the process.

Historically the Wallaby’s jersey unites Australia’s diverse football communities behind the one goal all Australians have in common. Beating New Zealand.

Today, even the iconic Bledisloe Cup fixtures, that once mesmerised the Nation, have been so over exploited they seem to happen more often than repeats of The Simpsons.

When the last Lions toured Australia in 2001, the eastern seaboard had entered a devastating drought that sucked the life out of the heartland’s red soil. That drought lasted a decade and an unexpected victim was the unifying spirit in Australian rugby.

Today the rains have returned but the spirit of Australian rugby has never recovered.

With the exception of Queensland, crowd numbers at Super Rugby franchises have collapsed. Rugby has failed to expand and grow at junior level, while AFL, soccer and Rugby League are booming.

The once intimate relationship between the community and “their” teams has widened to a gulf. Ticket prices are high and the quality of the rugby is low.

Dislocated administrations at both the ARU and the Waratahs have left the game in the economic powerhouse of Sydney in peril.

The rudderless ship is drifting close to some large, sharp rocks.

Yesterday at the ARU headquarters in Sydney, a newly appointed ARU CEO, Bill Pulver, took control. The challenges ahead are gigantic, yet the opportunities are massive. Rugby people dare to hope, just a little, once again.

Shallow talent pool

On the field, an unprecedented number of injuries led Deans to award 14 new caps and use a staggering 46 players last year. The positive is there will be more international experience available against the Lions.

However, this is not New Zealand or South Africa; while experience is up, the world-class talent pool remains shallow.

At times, despite the injuries, the Wallabies played with inspiring courage and commitment. Against a far more talented New Zealand XV, the Wallabies fought a courageous draw.

That night the team were simply magnificent.

That inspiring performance was executed without some of the talented and precious young Wallaby backs. Sadly, some of these players have developed the FIGJAM Syndrome, (F*** I’m Good Just Ask Me.) Repeated Alcohol-fuelled incidents that have included assaults, alleged theft and publicly urinating while wearing the Wallaby blazer, has led to loss of respect from the Australian public for the team.

The actions of the FIGJAMERS must be agonising for proud Wallabies like Pocock, Horwell, Palu, Barnes, Ashley-Copper, Moore, Genia, Polota-Nau, McCabe and Robinson.

Their blood must boil when their names are linked to the disrespectful behaviour of the few.

If the FIGJAMERS are ejected and the best 15 Wallaby players remain healthy, then the men in gold are not to be underestimated.

The Wallabies need a cause to stir the emotions of a competitive nation and provide an iconic challenge for a generation of players to restore pride in the famous gold jersey.

The ARU desperately require cash to power the sport.

The Lions provide Australia rugby with the opportunity to achieve both.

For Australia, the Lions tour starts today.

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