British & Irish Lions
Wallabies buck the trend and make the back pages
Tom Hamilton in Sydney
June 30, 2013
The Wallabies' supporters enjoy the moment © Getty Images
For the first time since we've been in Australia, rugby has dominated the sports news agenda. When I first arrived Down Under I asked journalists and punters what it would take for this to happen - they all answered as one Israel Folau, the man who bridges the different codes.
The Sunday Herald Sun gets boisterous © ESPNscrum
But it was the Wallabies' triumph that did it. It's hard for those with union as their first game to understand Australia's passion, even obsession, with AFL and rugby league. The prominent coverage both sports receive could be perceived to suggest media disinterest in the Lions tour, Australia snubbing the tourists.
However, John Eales believes this isn't the case; the game is being thrust more into the spotlight than ever before. "Rugby is probably getting more coverage than it usually gets," Eales told ESPN. "Australia is a really competitive sports market. In Western Australia and Victoria, Aussie Rules is the dominant game. In Queensland and New South Wales, league is the dominant game.
"The feats of the Wallabies over the years are really highly regarded by Australia. Rugby has a very important place here. But you are competing for everything from time on television, to paper coverage."
It's also harder to watch top level union in Australia and various media outlets have financial interests in the other sports - union struggles to find a place. There are 16 sides in the NRL, 18 in AFL and 10 in the A-League - rugby has just five franchises who spend half the season abroad, it is less obtainable.
Soccer is now the fastest growing sport in Australia. The preference for that over union has already been plainly clear - The Socceroos' victory over Iraq and their subsequent qualification to the 2014 World Cup wiped the Brumbies' victory over the Lions from the public eye.
There is a lot of sport for not much newspaper space.
A grim image from the Sunday Age © ESPNscrum
And it would be the same in the UK. The Lions don't have a divine right for newspaper coverage. The onus is more on the Wallabies. Both the Sunday Age and the Sunday Herald Sun had images of the Wallabies with inflammatory headlines on the front of their sport sections. This bucked the trend. With no Bledisloe Cup triumphs since 2002 and a general feeling of unease, and from some animosity, towards Robbie Deans, Australia is finding it hard to love the men in green and gold.
Eales said of this: "We haven't won the Bledisloe Cup for 10 years and doing that would really help with the recognition that we are here."
It's no slight on the Lions, "it's just the way it is", is the general view. But Folau holds the key it seems. He was on the front cover of The Australian on Saturday, a paper for the higher echelons of Australian society, and this would draw immediate interest from the AFL and NRL crowds. His presence in union is unlikely to cause a seismic shift in support but it will help. The ARU just needs to keep him now amid reported interest from just about every form of sport; don't rule out Folau opening the batting against England in the Ashes.
With no World Cups since 1999 and little else to shout about in the Deans era, you feel Australian rugby needs this series triumph. The bars' takings will be drastically up, hotels will have been inundated with red shirt-wearing Lions fans. And while the cities have reaped the rewards of a once in 12 years event, it remains to be seen if the Wallabies will.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.