Where is the next generation of Aussie superstars?
SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: The longest drought in Australian rugby, a 35-game winless streak against New Zealand opposition has led to many questions surrounding the state of the game in Australia.
“It’s a good question and I’m sure if we knew the answer earlier we would have rectified it,” Slipper said.
“There’s a bit of a gap between the Aussie and Kiwi teams but I believe we are clawing it back with hard work.”
“And, honestly, it’s always down to the basics that the Kiwis do well and we are working on…catch-pass, tackling, set piece, running hard and winning collisions,” Slipper said.
Whilst those are all valid and accurate points, it could be argued these are all merely symptoms of a game losing its relevance in the Australian sporting landscape. With four professional football codes – Aussie Rules, Rugby League, Football and Rugby Union, Rugby Australia has lost countless battles to keep the game at the forefront of the market.
At the same time across the ditch, the rise of professionalism in rugby has led to a turbo-charged production line in New Zealand from schoolboys through to Super Rugby. Throughout the early 2000’s the game was relatively early in its days as a professional game and as such a large proportion of schoolboy teams were still the ‘two training sessions a week’ type with limited to no strength and conditioning.
By the end of the decade, the 1st XV schoolboy competition had become intensified nationally, with vast amounts of money being invested by schools in semi-professional rugby programmes. As the national code, upwards of a 100 schools dedicated serious resources to the game.
With a time lag of roughly 4 years between ending school and making it to Super Rugby, those graduating from 2008-2010 would hit the pros around 2012-2014. This new generation has been training like professionals since they were 15 and playing upwards of 30-40 competitive games a year, not just against local competition but the best of the best nationally.
Meanwhile, the game in Australia has always been held within insular associations of private schools in the states of New South Wales and Queensland. The strongest and most prominent are the GPS associations of around nine member schools in both states, who play within each association. In Queensland, they play each other competitively eight times in a year.
With New Zealand’s best talent playing at least four times more than that, for every one year of skill development for an Australian player the Kiwi player is effectively getting three or four. Fast forward to the time they play professionally and that’s a big difference in learned skill and experience. We are seeing that play out every time a New Zealand side plays an Australian side despite Kiwi sides getting younger and Australia hanging on to players of yesteryear.
This is not the fault of the GPS schools, without them the game would be officially dead. Rather, Rugby Australia has failed to align with them, increase the number of games they are playing, and find a way to foster competition on a national level that benefits the development of the players. At this stage, the chasm is so wide the point of no return has been reached.
Australian sides will eventually beat a Kiwi side, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Once every twenty or thirty matches is no competition. There is no stopping the avalanche of points coming every time New Zealand sides play Australian sides until there is a structural change from the bottom up.
Australia got left behind and it might be too late to do anything about it.