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To win me over, rugby union, alter the ego


<em>Illustration: Edd Aragon</em>

Illustration: Edd Aragon

There you go again, rugby union. Flexing your muscles in front of the bathroom mirror and telling yourself no one could possibly resist you. Mistaking the early season flirting of the loyalists and the top-of-the-town benefactors as proof you are the hottest thing in town.

Such pride. Such self-delusion. Such ego. Little wonder you haven't noticed no one outside your cosy inner sanctum falls over themselves to be with you. You haven't realised that if you want me, you have to come and get me.

Yes, I know you think that's beneath you. So gauche to shop yourself around like other sports. But, if you're smart, you'll start giving blokes like me the flowers and chocolates treatment. Because you need us more than we need you.

We are the ecumenical sports fan with impressionable kids, all the sports channels and very itchy remote-control fingers. The types the other codes are turning cartwheels to impress.

They don't care about our low demographics or the tomato sauce on our chins. They bombard us relentlessly with their infectious advertising campaigns. They look after our brats on Saturday mornings. They go out of their way to entertain us at the ground and, as importantly, through the plasma.

Gus Gould's passionate in-goal soliloquies. Mark Bosnich's endearing laugh and Craig Foster's truculent defiance. Dennis Cometti's wit and Bruce McAvaney's man crushes. Yes, these guys are paid spruikers. But there is something infectious about the way NRL, A-League and AFL sell themselves. Something engaging in how their most visible protagonists comment, analyse and excite. Something that makes you tune in because, if you don't, you might be missing out.

And rugby union? You haven't given me that feeling for a long time. Not just because Gordan Bray is no longer waxing lyrical about some "pig farmer from Waikato Bay". Because you got old and lazy. You looked in that mirror and saw dignified grey, while everyone else saw wrinkles.

Consequently, you gave the impression you didn't care. Others were tailoring their game, and their environment, to a spoilt-for-choice generation. You were making yourself ridiculously obtuse, adding oboes and bassoons when everyone else was pumping synthesisers.

Yes, I know mocking rules that can make the Talmud seem as demanding as The Cat in the Hat is a cliche. But what do you expect when, simultaneously, the referee, the scoreboard and the bloke wearing the nice jacket in the next row all have a different explanation of the same penalty?

I still can't work out why your Super Rugby teams don't have regional names. Not a big thing. But symptomatic of the way you cater for insiders, and thumb your nose at the world.

You are blessed – and cursed – by your generous friends. The sponsors willing to pay six-figure sums to show off to a few friends and clients their box seats at the big games have kept your head above water. Same with the old-school crowd. They give you yet another chance to put yourself back in the contest with other mainstream sports; to attract the broader audience that has been excited by you since Jonny Wilkinson wiped the smile from John Howard's face.

The window opens again on Saturday night when the Waratahs play the Reds. New coach, competitive line-up and, potentially, one of the great sports stories of the year (non-drugs, drinking, match-fixing category). The NRL lost Israel Folau, the AFL couldn't retrain him. But he could be the best thing that's happened to you since William Webb Ellis became the only handyman who has never been to Bunnings.

The problem is that, as always, your fortunes are results-driven. A few early season wins by the Waratahs and the odd full house at Allianz Stadium will create the usual back-slapping. Just as the fact tickets for British and Irish Lions games were sold out before most people had hit control-alt-delete will be misrepresented as a sign of your rude health.

Of course, rugby union, these are merely indications of your latent potential. You still need to get out there and sell yourself. To use the media to spread the word. Not arrogantly revel in a comfortable, insular world that pampers egos, but leaves outsiders cold.

Unlike David Campese, I'm even willing to read things about you written by the Herald's genitally inappropriate rugby correspondent. Even if she tends to be a bit too knowledgeable and articulate at times.

Who knows, if the Tahs can parlay a strong start to the season into meaningful engagement with the rest of the planet, they might attract supporters who don't rush to the bar when the opposition slots a third-minute field goal. Then you can really puff out that big chest with pride.

Twitter @rdhinds

63 comments so far

  • How do some of these jouranlists get their articles published? This article is just a public rant from a bitter writer with who clearly doesn't know that game he is attacking. I wonder what exactly he is hoping to achive by publishing this rubbish.

    Date and time
    February 22, 2013, 4:38PM
    • Richard makes a couple of valid points but tends to wander into general Union-bashing which shows his ignorance.
      The ARU could certainly learn how to market the game in Australia from AFL and League but Union dwarfs them globally. The game has a combination of intensity and complexity the other codes lack, even if the rules are problematic as he rightly points out. Again, that is something the administrators could sort out and there lies Union's main problem. It is being let down by those who run the game, both here and overseas.
      For those who have played all the footy codes (and enjoy full contact) it is usually the preferred game. The "ego" crack is ridiculous and suggests Richard has a class inferiority complex- Union players and fans really love their game and have been shown in studies to have the highest lifelong code loyalty but it's nothing to do with the "Ra-Ra"' set as at least half the players I know didn't go to private school.
      And suggesting that Izzy Folau is the messiah is embarrassing from a senior sports writer- he's just the latest of many code-hoppers and their history hasn't been that special- except for the hype. He'll probably hold his own at the top level, nothing more.

      Date and time
      February 22, 2013, 10:23PM
    • Steady on, he's not that bad. The headline says it all though, perhaps Mr. Hinds, it's your ego that needs the altering. Remember rugby was born from football (soccer) when William Web Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it. It was built on the back of team work, understanding, and having the opportunity to run into someone at speed. (The difference for rugby league was that its foundations were greed and money).

      Rugby is an odd, confusing, and complex game - simplifying it and grandstanding it for the fans enjoyment should not and never be it's objective. The oddness, confusion, and complexity are what makes it unique. When played well it's unrivaled as a spectacle. And that is the challenge for the coach, 30 players, 1 ref, and 2 linesmen is to get it right. It's not rugby union that needs to change it's perception - perhaps its you.

      Date and time
      February 23, 2013, 11:14AM
    • Yeah, thing is, I find league incredibly boring in comparison to union.
      But that's fine, I just don't go out of my way to watch it.
      The other thing is that I think Australia's sporting outlook can be a bit insular.
      So because we essentially own the games of rugby league and AFL and can do whatever we want with them, we think the same way about union.
      But union isn't our game. It belongs to alot of different countries, in Europe, Africa, the Pacific, Asia, North America, South America, there's rugby playing countries all over the world.
      So it's not about just what we want. Richard Hinds is looking at a global game from a very local perspective.
      So he thinks the rules are ridiculous and the game is boring because there aren't as many tries as league. But if Australia really wanted to change that, they'd have to convince millions and millions of people from countries all over the world. Lots of people in France and the UK (for example) love grinding forward rugby. So when we ask if we can change the rules they tell us to hit the road.

      It's all very subjective in the end. What Hinds doesn't like about the game is something I appreciate. I like that union is a grinding struggle. I love the idea that possession of the ball is constantly being contested, in scrums, line-outs, mauls, rucks. Union is a constant battle for the ball, possession of the ball is never secure, you have to fight every second to hold it. You then earn the right to score points. I love the way the game lends itself to different styles, different tactics, in a way that the much more simple game of league can't.

      Date and time
      February 23, 2013, 12:42PM
    • Furthermore, with Folau - he's a great athlete, born to play rugby (either rugby).
      And I think he'll do very well in union, just like he did in league.
      But the reason he's getting so much press is simply because the main stream media is dominated (in Sydney and Brisbane) by rugby league fans.
      So you fall over yourselves to write about him, and because there's alot more league fans reading the paper, they enjoy reading about him. But there's plenty of other players in union just as exciting, just as intriguing. You guys just aren't that interested in writing articles about them.

      Hinds is right that union can do a better job marketing itself. But when media call for the game to change the rules so they can have more subjective enjoyment of a game they don't really understand, they are basically asking union to become league.
      What's the point of that? You've already got the NRL. Why do you want union to resemble it?
      Union is a different game. It has different rules, different priorities.
      Union isn't just about scoring tries. It's about a battle for possession of the ball foremost. It's more like NFL than league, in that there's more room for tactical manipulation. It's more of a chess game than league. It's less about individual brilliance and more about hard won teamwork.
      And I'm not criticizing league, but the differences between the two games are what makes them interesting.
      Try thinking about union a little differently. Don't judge it the way you judge league. Stop measuring it purely by how many tries are scored, and try focusing on the battle at the ruck for example. You might start to understand and appreciate what the game is about.

      Date and time
      February 23, 2013, 12:50PM
    • Spot on article for mine. Grew up playing and watching both codes with mutual respect. However, isn`t it time we addressed the 3 point elephant in the room? Lose the 3 point penalty and watch union become the attacking joy it was made to be.
      This isn`t the argument for Union purists. Hinds is talking about how to win over fans in the most competitive winter sports market in the world. League and AFL innovate and aren`t afraid to change. Union keeps its dull head in the sand.
      Final proof, watched State of Origin a few years ago in Japan sports bar with North Americans and Brazilians. Few months after watched rugby World Cup. Before halftime they said "put that other rugby back on"

      oval shaped
      Date and time
      February 23, 2013, 2:57PM
  • Interesting but ultimately very myopic, australian view of what is a global sport. The supposed simple and style of rugby game that you and (if we believe sports journalists) must have if NEVER going to happen.

    A global sport is dictated by the majority of its playing base. Australia has just too little rugby to matter, no matter how successful its national team is (which by the way benefited from the rub off effect of professional rugby league in the "amateur" rugby days and put Australia several years ahead in development).

    Hundreds of thousands of fans pay significant money in UK, France and Italy in cold and wet conditions to watch the game as it is. These fans are knowledgable and understand the game.and create an atmosphere that only a full MCG for an AFL game or Suncorp full of Queenslanders gets halfway close to. Please discuss why this should change?

    As for the courting of you to watch, this = advertising = money. Rugby has very little money and not anywhere near the resources of the other codes so why compete and spend money to be drowned by others?

    If you dont like the game or appreciate it for the different game that it is then you are missing the point and I dont blame you for watching something else.

    Date and time
    February 22, 2013, 4:39PM
    • @zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz'ope.....iz I manage to correctly get the right number of 'z' in your name.'ope....iz to understand a single word you've said !

      'Australia has just too little rugby to matter,.....' WTF ?

      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      February 22, 2013, 5:09PM
  • Rugby is a players game. If you don't get it by now you never will. Everybody else thinks we have to appeal to those who do not understand. Truly if you do not understand rugby you are wasting your time.

    Ra ra
    North Shore
    Date and time
    February 22, 2013, 4:41PM
    • Spot on. I guess since it's gone pro, $$$ are important. But personally I couldn't care less how "popular" that game is with other people. The popularity game is ridiculous anyway, considering that soccer, followed by rugby union are clear winners on the global stage. Most people have never even heard of league or AFL.That a small group of Aussie who just don't get it, think the game needs to change to become more appealing to them personally just shows how utterly clueless they are about the sport on a global level. If they don't like rugby, Richard Hinds and co. can take a walk. Nobody cares and the game needs them much less than they believe.

      Date and time
      February 23, 2013, 4:40PM

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Rugby World Cup 2015

Round 1
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG 35vs FJI 11 Report Stats
TGA 10vs GEO 17 Report Stats
IRE 50vs CAN 7 Report Stats
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SAF 32vs JPN 34 Report Stats
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ARG 54vs GEO 9 Report Stats
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ENG 25vs WAL 28 Report Stats
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IRE 44vs ROM 10 Report Stats
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AUS 15vs WAL 6 Report Stats
ENG 60vs URU 3 Stats
ARG 64vs NAM 19 Report Stats
Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
ITA 32vs ROM 22 Report Stats
FRA 9vs IRE 24 Report Stats
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Round 2
Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 23vs WAL 19 Stats
NZL 62vs FRA 13 Report Stats
IRE 20vs ARG 43 Report Stats
Mon, 19 OctTimes shown AEDT
AUS 35vs SCO 34 Stats
Sun, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 18vs NZL 20 Stats
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Australia 4 4 0 0 106 17
Wales 4 3 1 0 49 13
England 4 2 2 0 58 11
Fiji 4 1 3 0 -17 5
Uruguay 4 0 4 0 -196 0
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
South Africa 4 3 1 0 120 16
Scotland 4 3 1 0 43 14
Japan 4 3 1 0 -2 12
Samoa 4 1 3 0 -55 6
USA 4 0 4 0 -106 0
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
New Zealand 4 4 0 0 125 19
Argentina 4 3 1 0 109 15
Georgia 4 2 2 0 -70 8
Tonga 4 1 3 0 -60 6
Namibia 4 0 4 0 -104 1
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Ireland 4 4 0 0 99 18
France 4 3 1 0 57 14
Italy 4 2 2 0 -14 10
Romania 4 1 3 0 -69 4
Canada 4 0 4 0 -73 2
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