Matt Williams: If the Wallabies fail, rugby in Australia will fail
Across the globe rugby is booming however in Australia the game is in decline
Michael Hooper of Australia looks on after scoring a try against Fiji during the Rugby World Cup match clash in Sapporo, Japan. Photograph: Mark R Cristino/EPA
Morriston Rugby club sits in a small village in Swansea, Wales. Strangely, it is more famous for its choir than its rugby.
In 1985, when I was picking up a few games for Swansea Athletic, Richard Moriarty the former Welsh captain and Morriston junior, would often sneak me in for a game with his club. If they were short a player I would have a run because it was simply great fun to play.
I became fascinated with their after match clubhouse ritual. After standing under an exceptionally ordinary post match, cold drizzle, that was wrongly described as a shower, shivering, I would enter the warmth and buzz of their clubhouse bar.
It was heaven.
Now it was the amateur days. Players were provided with a pint of shandy. Not quite on today’s Institute of Sports nutritionist post-match recovery eating guidelines. A pie and mushy peas was the cuisine of choice, before the captain ordered 15 pints of Welsh bitter for his team. That meant the singing was about to start.
As if by the power of Merlin himself, a scruffy, smoke-filled, rugby club bar, was transformed into a place of harmony and joyous voices. The props, the flankers, the president, the former players and the barman, all sang in their correct octaval range and key. Wonderful Welsh hymns were sung in multiple harmonies that engulfed the humble rugby club and transform it into a cultural cathedral.
Even non believers sang like angels. Wales, “the land of song,” had me enchanted.
The Welsh have provided so much joy for rugby, it’s impossible to not be infected by the love the Welsh people have for their national team and how rugby is interwoven within their culture. Rugby is the game of the Welsh people. It transcends all social classes and political divides. The nation unites behind a scarlet cause.
Perhaps that is why the Welsh have not always performed well away from home. Outside the warm comforting bosom of Cardiff, the Welsh performances often drops.
Rugby in Australia could not be more different. Australian rugby players are embarrassingly tone deaf. Rugby is a minority sport in Australia. More than that it is a sport that is almost persecuted by giant media organisations that have spent billions on the TV rights for the other football codes, AFL and Rugby League.
Every piece of bad news about rugby is always splashed over every media organisation. Since Izzy Falou tweeted that most of us are off to hell, rugby in Oz has been chained to a wall and death by a thousand cuts has been administered by those who revel in the mutilation of a rival sporting code.
Combined, the AFL and the National Rugby League have 34 powerful club teams. Rugby has four. While the AFL and NRL generate billions of dollars, their international competitions are close to non-existent.
AFL and Rugby League crave the gold jersey because rugby is not the game of Australia, but the Wallabies are Australia’s team.
They know, if the Wallabies fail, rugby will fall. Across the globe rugby is booming yet in Australia the crowds attending Super Rugby matches have fallen.
The numbers participating in the men’s junior 15-as-side game in Sydney have dropped alarmingly. The year 2018 was the worst for results for the Wallabies since the 1950s.
So, the Wallabies are losing. Izzy is telling us we are all selected in Beelzebub’s rugby academy in preparation for the afterlife and the kids are all riding skateboards.
Please hand me another Welsh shandy.
Then, as if Izzy had a word with the big man himself, it all changed. The Wallabies smashed, yes folks, smashed New Zealand in Perth by a record score. The thunderclouds parted and the Wallabies ran the ball to beat New Zealand.
Alleluia, praise the Reverend William Webb Ellis. It was just like old times.
Seven days later the Wallabies were smashed, by a cricket score, at Eden Park, but I promise you it was a great seven days.
Some 45,000 Australians are now in Japan to watch the RWC. That staggering figure tells you how deep the love of the game runs in the Australian rugby community.
Good stories about rugby mostly don’t get told in Australia. Uplifting stories get swamped by the negative, the controversial or the completely unwanted. Much of the pain is self inflicted, but Australian Rugby never seems to have the opportunity to tell its good news.
Michael Hooper is a great captain, a leader and a quality person. He is very often overlooked. David Pocock’s attempt to lead a life of high ethics and community mindedness is so unique in professional sport, but in Oz he rarely rates a mention. Christian Lealiifano’s journey from contracting, fighting and defeating leukaemia, to once again wearing the gold jersey is truly inspirational.
Sadly for the Wallabies, none of this counts. All that matters is winning.
Australia and Wales are contrasting rugby nations. One is the land of song were the game is part of the people and in the other the community is fighting to keep rugby’s culture alive.
The need for Australia to win is massive, not just for this World Cup, but for all the World Cups of the future.
Australia have won 13 of their last fourteen matches against Wales. Warren Gatland’s record against Australia is exceptionally poor. But this one is different. There is a lot more at stake for the men in gold.