After the Blues’ ugly capitulation to the Maroons in the State of Origin, and indeed the Wallabies inability to compete with the All Blacks, I say it’s time to go back to square one. Worth a try.
The question has to be asked. After NSW lost the unlosable State of Origin series this year (making it 11 of the last 12), and the Wallabies losing the last 14 Bledisloe Cups, are footy fans losing interest in what has always been the greatest show on their respective turfs?
They say you cannot ‘kill off’ Rugby League, but after the lop sided State of Origin results, I’m wondering if the bubble has burst. In this year’s instalment, NSW had QLD for most of the first two games and looked like winners all the way. However, QLD fought back (lead by those very special warriors in Smith, Thurston and Cronk) and won the day when all seemed lost. After they rolled over NSW in Game Three, pubs across Sydney emptied well before full-time.
Unfortunately, this has been happening every year over the past decade, bar one.
The same can be asked of our long suffering masochistic Wallaby fans, who religiously don their gold scarves and jumpers only to watch them get demolished by the All Blacks. In fact, I witnessed last year’s clash in Sydney, and at half time the Men in Black led by 20 odd points. Wallaby fans were seen leaving the arena at halftime. Not happy Jan.
In fact, over the lifetime of the Trans-Tasman Rugby Union battle, the All Blacks have won it 44 times to Australia’s 16. No Wallaby Captain has lifted the Bledisloe since 2002.
The same can be asked of our long suffering masochistic Wallaby fans, who religiously don their gold scarves and jumpers only to watch them get demolished by the All Blacks.
So, why are the Wallabies and the NSW Blues consistent losers?
As a Sports Psychologist, I have discovered an equation that defines success: Performance = Talent + Culture + Belief
When you drill down to the core of successful sporting teams, these are the factors that stand out. Both the Maroons and the All Blacks boast wonderful talent. QLD has been able to build around the same leadership group over the past 12 years; while the All Blacks have recruited or attracted the best Pacific Islander talent to complement their home grown leaders, manufactured at notable schools such as Wellington College, which has produced 35 All Blacks.
Let us first examine the reasons why the Wallabies have not won a Bledisloe Cup for so long.
After the All Blacks won the 2015 Rugby World Cup (beating Australia in the final) they replaced Dan Carter and Richie McCaw without missing a beat. In fact, they have got better. Why? The key to this continual production line of top line players through education establishments. Australian Rugby Union could take a lesson. School-level rugby is a serious business in New Zealand, partly because the sport plays such an elemental role in their national psyche.
There is a club in most small towns, just about every news bulletin carries a rugby story and there is even a television channel dedicated to school rugby, all of which helps to attract the next generation of recruits.
The comparative stats are amazing.
Australia boasts a population of 23 million people, New Zealand, a paltry 4.5 million.
In fact, there are only about 250 professional rugby players in New Zealand, with 150,000 players at the grassroots level. This is fewer than Australia (230,000), England (382,000) or France (542,000). Further, the most played team sport in New Zealand is now soccer rather than rugby. Even at Wellington College, more kids play soccer than rugby according to School PE Master Greg Sharland. However, Sharland says that the most talented athletes still tend to gravitate to rugby, primarily because it offers a stellar career path. One has to ask why this fact is not promoted more to talented athletic kids here in Australia?
It is unfortunate that the Australian Rugby Union does not have the same set up for recruiting the best athletic talent to Schoolboy/girl Rugby Union. As Brother Anthony, the mastermind at Wallabies production line St Joseph’s told me: “We do not see Wallabies attending our First XV training or matches which is a pity, and changing that should be an ARU priority.”
Rugby World Cup winning Captain Nick Farr-Jones is adamant a big reason for the Wallabies lack of success comes down to two factors: “I am aghast at the lack of basic skills ie passing, catching and running within the Wallabies which is unforgivable given they are full-time athletes, as well as an obvious lack of belief that they can beat the All Blacks.”
Nick remembers the key reason why his Wallabies won the 1991 Rugby World Cup (beating the All Blacks in the semi final) “New Zealand beat us a few months before the World Cup and I was angry. The team was angry. I kept the team back and we eyeballed each other making a commitment that if we played the All Blacks in the World Cup we would not lose. It came down to a belief, a conviction we would beat them and we did. Today’s Wallabies lack that belief.”
The Blues lack the culture that Queensland have trademarked. This character is typified in Cameron Smith, Jonathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk who inspired the Maroons to eventually grind NSW down.
Fellow Wallaby great Mark Ella believes Michael Cheika needs to add a Sports Psychologist to Wallaby coaching staff: “Winning the mind game is just as important as talent. You have to run out believing in yourself and the team. A Psychologist can help trigger those mental factors that influence the result.”
Given the Wallabies lacklustre performances this year, coach Michael Cheika certainly has a job on his hands to instil the belief to enable the Wallabies to compete.
New South Wales Coach Laurie Daley has a similar problem.
The Blues lack the culture that Queensland have trademarked. This character is typified in Cameron Smith, Jonathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk who inspired the Maroons to eventually grind NSW down. All they did was to tell their team mates: “follow me” and the rest is history. Belief is a powerful weapon.
Has Laurie Daley the ability to build a similar indefatigable culture and passion within the NSW Blues? The results say no. Here is why. The character and culture of the 2017 NSW Blues are players who have had ‘run ins’ with officials. Whereas new QLD coach Kevin Walters dismissed six players for going AWOL at a camp before the series. Therefore, creating a winning culture and a positive belief system has been harder for Daley to implement. The culture has already taken root. It will take a new coach to reset this mode of thinking. ‘Freddie’ Fittler is a name that won’t go away. A proven performer coaching the City vs Country clash, with his focus being on the mental side of the game, an aspect that is becoming more and more paramount in today’s coaching.
Things need to change upstairs before we can expect a swing in results. The battle of the minds is paramount. As an example, The All Blacks and the Maroons share similar behavioural slogans. The All Blacks followed ‘No excuses’ and the Maroons trumpet ‘No dickheads’. Both statements say the same thing. Quality and motivation of the player is as important as talent. Those who opposed them, as bitter as it may seem, will have to emulate them if they’re to reinvigorate these two once-great competitions.
The fans and sponsors expect it.