Rugby men of a certain age need a major attitude update on women

Mon, Dec 3, 2012, 00:00

ANALYSIS:I doubted a woman could enter the ‘pointy end’ of rugby with credibility. I was wrong

Brian O’Driscoll and David Campese are the two best players I have ever coached. David’s place in the pantheon of the game’s greatest is assured.

Recently David is more renowned for his controversial comments than for his genius as a player.

Last week his tweet questioning why the Sydney Morning Herald recently appointed a female reporter, Georgina Robinson, to cover rugby, made headlines around the rugby world.

Campo felt Georgina, as a woman, did not understand the issues regarding the Wallaby coach, Robbie Deans. He wrongly attacked her on gender, not on opinion.

This pushed me into examining my own attitudes towards women in rugby.

As a starting point, any appointment should be made on a person’s competency for the task, not gender, race, age, sexual orientation, religion or political persuasion.

The great Wallaby player and coach, Dave Brockhoff, would always ask if you were “rugby-worthy?” In “Brock speak,” that meant, do you have the character, competencies and love of the game to be part of the great tradition? On the point of “rugby-worthy” competencies, I have to admit, I also questioned the appointment of Georgina Robinson. I questioned how someone who has never been in a tackle or caught on the bottom of a ruck, and a myriad of other aspects, could report with credibility on rugby.

I also asked, were there not other male journalists with better rugby competencies for the position? I was fearful Georgina’s was a hollow “positive discrimination” appointment.

The Herald rugby correspondent is of exceptional importance to Australian rugby. For many years the rugby correspondent for the Herald was Greg Growden. He took voluntary redundancy a few months ago. I was delighted.

His unending negativity and, in particular, an almost pathological negativity towards all aspects of the Waratahs, made the environment for rugby in Sydney, to quote Quade Cooper, “toxic”.

As AFL and league forged ahead in Sydney, many in the rugby community felt the Herald was very gentle on the leading officials’ lack of action on trying to grow the grassroots of the game. While the Sydney grade competition standards dropped drastically and the populous west of Sydney remained a rugby wasteland, the Herald was almost silent.

His leaving filled me with great hope for Michael Cheika’s era at the Waratahs. Perhaps now the media environment would not be as venomous and the Sydney public would cease to be fed a constant diet of negativity.

So the appointment of Georgina Robinson raised a lot of eyebrows.

I have never met Georgina, but since her appointment the reporting has been accurate and balanced. There is no “cheerleading” but there is refreshing positivity and a direct quality to her writing.

It is early days, but I am impressed and hopeful. I am hopeful she continues to say what needs to be said, with balance and a healthy disregard for rugby establishment’s political conventions.

In retrospect my own attitudes were judgmental. I doubted a woman could enter the “pointy end” of rugby with credibility. My fears regarding Georgina’s appointment were ill-founded. The competency of her reporting confirms her appointment was totally justifiable. She is now a pioneer in rugby journalism.

The essence of David’s original tweet is he does not think Robbie Deans is doing a good job and he questioned Robinson’s analysis of the Wallabies and of Deans.

As a former great, David has every right to this opinion. I don’t share his criticism of Robbie and the team but many in Australian rugby are anti-Robbie Deans. The percentage of the anti-Deans group who don’t like him because he is a Kiwi is debatable, but it is undeniable that racism exists in some opinions. Like Georgina, Robbie should be judged on his competencies, not on his place of birth.

Recently Julia Gillard, Australia’s first women prime minister, made a speech on misogyny. Her words resounded around the globe. It should be noted that the target of her anger was the opposition leader Tony Abbot, who is a rugby man.

I do not share Tony’s political views or tactics, but I did play against him on several occasions. He was a good player and a tough man. Tony was also an excellent boxer. One day at Sydney Uni Oval he punched my head an absolute beauty of a smack. I saw stars and was so dizzy I stumbled and crawled.

A few seasons later I had my revenge.

His head came up on our side of the ruck. He was trapped there. I ran 10 metres to drive my shoulder flush into his face. I wanted revenge and to hurt him and I believe I did. I remember that after those games Tony would always walk over and say “g’day” and share a beer and a chat.

Despite everything, I liked him. That was rugby in the 1980s. It was totally politically incorrect.

With that ridiculously embarrassing story as an example, is it any wonder men sometimes doubt if women can understand the game when we can barely understand the complexity of its “alpha male” ethos ourselves.

As David, Tony and myself come from that era, we might need to update our attitudes and judge the “rugby-worthy” competencies of the individual and not the woman.

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