Cultivate grassroots to grow the game
October 25, 2013
Bill Pulver could do worse than listen to Greg Growden © Getty Images
ESPNscrum is publishing Greg Growden's Manifesto to Save Australian Rugby, to provide thoughts and discussion points to help the sport rediscover its mojo in Australia. Join the discussion by leaving a comment at the foot of the page, or by tweeting Greg Growden @GregGrowden.
Return to ESPNscrum on Saturday, October 26, to read the fourth and final installment of Greg's plan to get Australian rugby out of the mire
Club rugby deserves more support
For years, the Australian club scene has successfully nurtured Test players despite dwindling support from the chiefs above; numerous administrators at the top level often forget about the grassroots of the game, and only look at the "big picture", but club football continues to serve its purpose. How club rugby continues to do so is a miracle, especially as funding from the national body and the provinces continues to drop at an alarming rate.
Robbie Deans when he was Wallabies coach tried to provide the required support by allowing Test players to return to their clubs when not required at the top level. That worked, and gave the club scene a timely boost. But too many folk with power like to quarantine the club scene - but they do so at their own peril. Club football provides the basic foundation to the game, and involves those who have the game most at heart. To continually neglect them, or make their job harder, is sheer madness. Pumping money into the clubs rather than wasting it on a meaningless third-tier competition would be a far wiser investment. At least at club level, you are dealing with people who know what they are talking about.
Improve the quality of coaching at junior and schoolboys level
Be prepared to be shocked if you have the chance to attend a provincial or Wallabies training session. The level of skills is often poor - with numerous so-called superstars of the game clearly struggling with the basics. Quite a few flounder in basic catch-pass-kick skills. This means something is amiss somewhere in the system; it's quite clear that many players have not been taught properly at junior level, and that they been allowed to get away with developing bad habits.
With the private schools no longer a rugby domain, and the AFL, in particular, successfully targeting that area, it appears that the level of rugby coaching and organisation falls off badly when you get below first and second XV level. And who to coach? The Australian Rugby Union continually boasts that player figures are improving, but take a drive around the major cities on a Saturday morning in season and you'll see youngsters playing rugby league, Australian football, soccer - and only occasionally rugby.
One bugbear of junior rugby in recent years is that it has degenerated into a political bun fight, with factions, particularly in Sydney, constantly fighting each other. Sometimes it appears that numerous junior officials are driven by "what the game can do for me" rather than "what you can do for the game".
Self-seeking officials should be eradicated from the game; the level of coaching should be improved; and more resources should be put in the area of recruitment, because at the moment AFL, in particular in Sydney, is playing rugby off a break and luring away many potential talents. Rugby can no longer rely on the private schools.
Saturday, October 26: the ARU should stop banging on about its dreadful financial position and focus instead on ways to make the code more appealing to the punter.
Greg Growden offers common-sense solutions to save Australian rugby © ESPNscrum with Getty Images
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