Wallabies and the 2015 World Cup: Super 15 a prerequisite

Ewen McKenzie has been reported in the press today as saying that he will not consider any player who is not signed with a Super Rugby franchise for selection for the 2015 World Cup. This is absolutely the right decision from the coach and is to be lauded.

To quote the coach:

“You can’t have guys cherry picking their way through and grabbing all the trinkets along the way, you’ve actually got to make a commitment”

AND

“We need people to invest in Australian rugby, so they’re around promoting the game, pressing the flesh, doing the coaching clinics, developing the game on and off the field:

Well said Link!!!!

This is, of course, different to the contracting position in South African rugby where players may take contracts outside of Super Rugby and still be selected for the Springboks. That said, there is a very key distinction between the state of the game in South Africa and Australia. In Australia, Rugby Union is running a distant 3rd as a winter sport to the NRL and AFL whereas in South Africa rugby union is the national game. The need for the stars of the game in Australia to commit to the game here and thereby invest in rugby in the fashion suggested by Ewen McKenzie has probably never been more important.

All of this means that players of the like of Digby Ioane, Berrick Barnes, James O’Conner and Drew Mitchell will all miss out on selection in the 2015 World Cup unless they are back in Super 15 colours by the start of the 2015 season. Ioane, of that quartet, is the only one that really presents as a prospect for the 2015 World Cup in my view and will have a decision as to whether he follows his wallet or his heart.

Rugby in this country has many disadvantages and does not need to reduce its image further by resorting to players who do not support the game and its development in this country no matter who good they might project to be in the team. For taking this stand the ARU and the coach are to be saluted. Now bring on this weekend’s test match and then, in February 2014, the start of Super 15 rugby!

What’s going on with the Wallabies?

Ewen McKenzie has named his team for the test against Italy tomorrow evening. The team is:

Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Nick Cummins, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Ben Mowen (c), Michael Hooper, Rob Simmons, James Horwill, Sitaleki Timani, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Res: Saia Faingaa, Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Dave Dennis, Liam Gill, Nic White, Christian Lealiifano, Joe Tomane.

Rob Simmons comes back from a knee injury on the side of the scrum and, despite some press about it earlier in the week, Ben Mowen remains the captain.

There was much talk around the dinner table last night about the Wallabies woes at the moment: from lamenting the Deans years through to a consideration of whether we have too many Super 15 franchises to some forceful discussion about Australian rugby’s obvious failings when it comes to the domestic game. The crux though of all of the problems we discussed seemed to come back to this immutable truth: the Southern Hemisphere competitors of the Wallabies come from countries where rugby is the national sport. Unfortunately, diehards aside, rugby union is the 4th most popular “winter” sport after NRL, AFL and, of late, soccer.

Therein lies another problem: rugby union seems to be losing its base. The Deans years and the lack of immediate success arising from McKenzie’s appointment is frustrating the diehards and, frankly, moving them away from the game. I offer myself as an example: 12 months ago it would have been personally unthinkable for me not to stay up late into the early hours of the morning to watch the Wallabies play on the European tour. This year I have chosen sleep over disappointment.

I am not sure what will bring back the diehards like me. Winning will help. That said: being competitive will be a bigger help. Here’s hoping that process starts against Italy.

Since when was $196,000 not enough to play for your country?

In the world of rugby today the big news, aside from the ongoing hand wringing that surrounds the Wallabies in general at the moment, was the prospect of Ben Mowen leaving these shores to ply his trade in Europe because of a pay dispute with the ARU.

The story is that he has signed with the Brumbies through 2015 but that that contract has been predicated upon Mowen receiving an ARU top up. The ARU, having spent the GDP of a small country to keep I Folau among others in Wallaby gold, does not have the cash to pay such a top up.

I was sympathetic to the case of Mowen, after all he is the current incumbent for the captaincy of the country and has improved markedly over the last year to secure a spot in the Wallabies line up. Then I read that each Wallabies player earns $14,000 per game. Further, assuming Mowen is selected for all 14 games the Wallabies play this season, he will earn $196,000 on top of his contract with the Wallabies. AND any top up payment will further increase the sum to be paid to Mowen for the honour to represent his country.

Are you kidding me? $14,000 per game is not enough? I know it is a professional game now but can anyone put their hand on their heart and say that the price of representing ones country should be one cent more than the exorbitant amount already paid?

Much like my response to rugby league players breaking contracts to enhance their value on the market, I have a simple response to the grab for cash currently being undertaken by a player seen as a future captain: go and play in Europe! Because frankly: if $196,000 is not enough to keep you in Wallaby gold then I have to question you commitment to that jersey.

Mowen Factor: in search of a better performance and a win

Much has been made during the week in rugby circles of the dropping of Will Genia and the elevation of Ben Mowan to the captaincy of the Australian team.

 

First things first: Genia had to be dropped. He has been in ordinary form since (indeed during) the Lions tour and only the frailty of Australia's fly halfs and forwards has saved him from scrutiny he otherwise would have faced. Nic White has earned his chance.

 

Onto Mowen: it has been obvious to all keen watchers of Super Rugby that Ben Mowen was a captain of the Wallabies of the future. I just don't think anyone expected his elevation to come so soon. Having seen his exemplary work at the helm of the Brumbies and noting that he is leading a team replete with his Brumbies team mates, I have no doubt he will do a fine job.

 

As a Wallabies fan I want to see a win tonight. It is that simple. Equally, I remember the sour feeling left with me having watched the Wallabies scrape to a win against the Pumas on the Gold Coast last year so the other thing I want to see from the Wallabies is a vastly improved performance as well. It is not good enough, in my unlearned opinion, for the Wallabies to scrape over the line here because that will still be considered a loss in some quarters. So, for me, the win is important but equally as important is the performance.

 

A final word: I wrote earlier in the week about giving Ewen McKenzie a break from the rhetoric and my view in that has not changed. Indeed, I have probably moved even further along the spectrum to the view that I am comfortable with Australia coming third in the Rugby Championship because this is an obvious rebuilding phase in the post Deans era. South Africa and New Zealand are ahead of us at the moment and that, as hard as it is to say, is ok because I have faith that McKenzie can turn us around given time.

 

With one eye on tonight and one on the future: I can not wait for kick off and seeing Ben Mowen lead Australia into battle.

Rugby: Time to give McKenzie a break!

I have been fascinated by calls of late questioning the selection of Ewen McKenzie as coach of the Wallabies following his first three test matches. There is only one person I blame for the poor form of the Wallabies and it is not Ewen McKenzie: blame for Australia’s poor form has to rest with Robbie Deans.

McKenzie has had, since the end of the Super Rugby season less than two months to work this Wallabies team into a team that plays, for want of a better term, the “McKenzie Way”. It is ridiculous to suggest that the Wallabies were going to be able to magically erase 5 years of Deans’ coaching and strategy in such a short time frame.

Even with the injection of new players there are still a significant number of players in this current team who were schooled in the game at test level by Deans. McKenzie needs time to mould this team into his own image and to his own style of play. The move to drop Will Genia is an important part of McKenzie stamping his authority on the team, indeed it is more important that the return of Quade Cooper in my view.

We need to give McKenzie some time without knives in his back: to even the least ardent of Wallabies fans it must have been obvious that immediate improvements were a pipe dream and now we know that to dream to be a reality. Let’s assess the start of the McKenzie “era” at the end of the Rugby Championship or even after the end of season Northern Hemisphere tour. By then we will know whether McKenzie’s midas touch as a coach, as we saw at the Reds, translates to the international game.

In the meantime, here’s hoping that Australia win and win well against Argentina this weekend in Perth. To lose will only increase the disharmony in the ranks of the fans, if nothing else.

The Rugby Championship: Wallabies side named to face the Springboks

Ewen McKenzie has named his team for the Rugby Championship match on this Saturday at Lang Park this morning as follows:

Israel Folau, Nick Cummins, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Lealiifano, James O’Connor, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, James Horwill (capt), Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, James Slipper.

Bench: Saia Fainga’a, Scott Sio, Ben Alexander, Kane Douglas, Jake Schatz, Nic White, Matt Toomua, Jesse Mogg

The biggest change is Quade Cooper in for Matt Toomua whilst Israel Folau moves to fullback and Nick Cummins comes into the side on the wing. Ben Alexander has been dropped to the bench with Sepoke Kepu taking his place in the front row. Jake Schatz replaces his Queensland team mate Liam Gill on the bench whilst Jesse Mogg moves to the bench in place of Brumbies team mate Tevita Kuridrani.

Much will be made of Cooper coming in for Toomua. Frankly though it is the right decision given the spluttering attacking displays of the Wallabies in their first two outings in this Rugby Championship. That said, Will Genia has not been anywhere near his best so far so all of the blame ought not rest on Toomua’s shoulders.

Personally I continue to scratch my head at the ongoing selection of James O’Connor on the wing. He has been a liability in defence thus far and needed to be dropped for mine.

Kick-off is 8pm Saturday night Brisbane time.