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Fresh pack ready for political football

Tony Abbott playing for Sydney University fourth grade premiers in 1986.

Tony Abbott playing for Sydney University fourth grade premiers in 1986. Photo: Supplied

Are you ready for this, Australia? If the polls are to be believed - and let's hope not, but I digress - rugby props are about to take over the running of Australia. Yes'm, all of Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Malcolm Turnbull - soon likely to be prime minister, treasurer and minister for communications - played in the front row in the lower grades of Sydney University in the late 1970s and 1980s. Turnbull played mostly fourths, Hockey mostly thirds, and Tony Abbott mostly seconds, though he also did a lot of coaching.

Oh, stop panicking. At least, stop panicking because of their rugby backgrounds alone …

To begin with, rugby union and politics, particularly right-wing politics, have a long pedigree. You tell 'em, British writer Philip Toynbee: ''A bomb under the West car park at Twickenham on an international day would end fascism in England for a generation.''

Got it covered: Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey during a politicians' rugby match in 2003.

Got it covered: Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey during a politicians' rugby match in 2003. Photo: Penny Bradfield

Against that, the last Labour prime minister of Britain, Gordon Brown, once also enthused: ''My favourite sport at school was rugby. All sports are teamwork, but rugby particularly is about teamwork, and I think teamwork is the essence of this.''

And, of course, Bill Clinton, one of the two most successful American presidents of the past 50 years, was also a keen rugby player at Oxford University, once telling Mike Carlton that his coach there had just told him: ''Clinton, just go out there and get in the way of people.'' He had done exactly that and loved it!

Neither Brown nor Clinton were props, however, as - like other notable political rugby players Gough Whitlam, Jacques Chirac and Malcolm Fraser - they played in the second row, while Ben Chifley was a star back-rower for the Bathurst Football Club. For their part, John Howard, Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd all played - sniff - in the backs, Mr Howard as five-eighth for Canterbury Boys High, Mr Keating on the wing for Bankstown's De La Salle College and Rudd on the wing for the under-14Es of Marist Brothers Ashgrove in Brissie.

And so, you see, at least in Australia, this will be the first time the country has entrusted the keys to The Lodge not just to a rugby union prop, but one whose closest lieutenants are of exactly the same ''prop pedigree'', if one can use such an unlikely phrase.

What will it be like? Not sure, though at least we can be sure that none of Abbott, Hockey or Turnbull mind getting down and dirty, or having a scrap - even with each other, as Abbott once famously knocked Joe out during a scrum session, circa 1987 at uni - and they're also hard workers, as props are wont to be.

As to Abbott specifically, I have written before how in Sydney University rugby circles in the 1980s he was known as an affable extremist, affectionately referred to as the Mad Monk. In rugby his tendency to the extremes focused on scrums, and as far as I could see, he never saw a scrum that he didn't like, most particularly if the conditions in which the scrums were set were abysmal.

And if you'll forgive me giving this story one more run - under the circumstances of his likely ascension - one time, when he was coaching me in 1989, Sydney Uni No.2 was a quagmire of mud, and sensible players had long since retired to the dressing room. Situation perfect. Again and again and again Abbo put the first and second XV packs through scrums, running from spot to spot to set the new scrum, as we maddened muddy wombats staggered after him. Forty minutes in, as our eyeballs rolled with exhaustion, I remember looking at his own beatific countenance, all grin and ears, the rain pouring off his uncovered head and having this distinct thought: ''I think he's a little bit insane … in a hugely likeable way.''

It is, frankly, a view that has never quite left me, and I'll be interested to see what kind of a PM he makes. I live in hope of him having a Damascene conversion on the way to Government House to be sworn in - suddenly realising the importance of Australia becoming a republic, taking serious action on climate change, treasuring the ABC and limiting the influence of the church on secular society - but I digress!

The point remains: the Age of the Prop in Australian politics is upon us. Steel yourselves.

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

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62 comments

  • Sink Sink Heave!!

    Commenter
    MDG Sydney
    Location
    Guess?
    Date and time
    September 05, 2013, 12:22AM
    • I'm struggling to imagine Tony having enough meat on his bones to prop up a scrum? The guy looks like he's about 70kg...

      Commenter
      Crispy
      Date and time
      September 05, 2013, 10:18AM
    • Had to happen sooner or later. If it wasn't for beer front rowers would have taken over the world by now.

      Commenter
      jinantonyx
      Location
      'Berra
      Date and time
      September 05, 2013, 1:20PM
  • Neither have the class of Topo

    Commenter
    ed
    Date and time
    September 05, 2013, 12:24AM
    • Fitzy - from you I nearly take that as an endorsement. Bring on the props.

      I doubt Rudd ever made a tackle!

      Commenter
      Philly Slim
      Date and time
      September 05, 2013, 12:41AM
      • I suspect that Rudd has a long, and enduring relationship with the tackle

        Commenter
        Louis Cypher
        Date and time
        September 05, 2013, 8:20AM
      • I'll bet Abbott treasures the ABC (if secretly) after Roger Corbett's inappropriate and provocative comments the other night and replayed ad nauseum the following day.

        Commenter
        Douglas
        Date and time
        September 05, 2013, 8:32AM
    • Mr FitzSimons,

      I'm surprised you didn't mention that Bill Clinton's successor was also played rugby in his day. I suppose you might be trying to forget George W Bush's two terms in office - even so, he played played fullback for Yale in 1968.

      And despite being a back, it appears he didn't mind a bit of rough play, as this photo shows:

      http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2005/11/01/books/broo450.jpg

      you forgot that George W Bush was also a keen rugby player. He played fullback for Yale in 1968-70.

      While you may be trying to forget his time in office,

      Commenter
      Hass
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      September 05, 2013, 12:55AM
      • maybe its true about rugby and fascists then, although fitz makes the common mistake of confusing fascism and right wing politics. even a cursory understanding of history will enlighten him that fascism is a leftist invention - ergo The National Socialist Party or Nazi Party as it was better known. ditto mussolini who cut his teeth in the Italian Socialist Party before deciding they werent accumulating enough debt, so he established the original fascists.

        fitz jut continuing the leftists attempts to re-write history.

        Commenter
        kevin 457
        Location
        perth
        Date and time
        September 05, 2013, 1:58PM
    • you can add Che Guevara, Idi Amin and George W Bush to your list....

      also to highlight the similiarities between politicians and actors: Javier Bardem, Daniel Craig, Richard Harris, Gerard Depardieu, Richard Burton

      Commenter
      Oliver Gilly
      Date and time
      September 05, 2013, 1:29AM

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