The Wallabies may have beaten Italy on the weekend but there’s still plenty of question marks surrounding the Australian side in the lead-up to next year’s World Cup in Japan, which is virtually just around the corner.
The side’s slipped to No.7 on the rankings – the lowest Australia’s been since the system was established – and with a widely-acknowledged inferiority to the likes of the All Blacks, Ireland and England in particular, there’s plenty still pondering the solution to the Wallabies’ woes.
I’m here to give you that solution.
It’s not Adam Ashley-Cooper either, although he was excellent in his return to the international scene on the weekend.
The solution I’m talking about comes in the form of a little-known bloke from the country who, despite having the silky ball skills and pinpoint boot any pivot would be happy to boast, has long been pigeon-holed as little more than a prop.
Who is this mysterious bookend you’re dubbing Australian rugby’s saviour, I hear you asking, and why haven’t I heard of him?
Well, it’s me, because after making what I’m calling my international debut last weekend I’m expecting a call from Michael Cheika any minute now.
Put me in, coach.
Maybe – just maybe – I’m letting my short appearance for the Classic Wallabies on Saturday afternoon go to my head a bit, but hey, I’m never going to go anywhere near an Australian jersey again so I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth.
I may even get 926 – that’s my Wallabies cap number, if you’re interested – tattooed across my heart to commemorate the occasion.
Okay, that might be a bit much.
I’ll stop completely taking the piss now because the opportunity to take the field for the Classic Wallabies isn’t one I took for granted, nor one I’ll forget any time soon.
While I didn’t start playing rugby until I was 15 or 16 (I only did so because my mates were and I had FOMO and I never harboured any goal of playing for Australia – not because I was pessimistic or didn’t have dreams – I just knew I’d never be good enough) the whole experience was a bit surreal.
It’s not every day you get to replace 129-Test veteran Stephen Moore from the bench, or pack down in the second row next to Justin Harrison, or throw a lineout – a pinpoint lineout to the back, too – to Stephen Hoiles, or whip a cut-out ball to Mark Gerrard out wide after all.
And that was just on the field, in an exhibition game that wasn’t entirely serious but capped off the Classic Wallabies’ visit in style.
I could wax lyrical about how incredible the experience was for me, and the fact it gave a barely-adequate prop and a couple of other ring-ins the chance to wear a green and gold jersey is one of the beautiful things about the program.
(Side note on that green and gold jersey: I am very glad I didn’t end up having to wear the medium I was initially given. I tried it on, obviously, it was basically a sports bra.)
But that’s not what it’s about, not really.
If you spoke to any of the Classic Wallabies guys or read any of the Central Western Daily’s after-the-fact coverage you’ll have quickly found out the program and last weekend’s visit was largely about two things – community, and giving back.
Another of the program’s goals is to help retired players move into their lives after rugby as well, but in terms of the Orange and Central West Rugby Union communities, the benefits from last weekend will be immeasurable.
Think about someone like Orange City hooker Josh Tremain, who’s idolised Stephen Moore and got the chance to play against him as part of the Central West Barbarians side.
Think about the bumper crowd on hand at Endeavour Oval that were able to witness some of their heroes in action without having to go to the city to do so.
Think about Central West’s New Zealand tour, which the Blue Bulls and women’s teams were on hand to fundraise for all day.
Think about the third-tier Oilsplus Cup players who were given much-needed exposure in a red-hot curtain-raising game.
Mostly though, think about the kids.
Not in a Helen Lovejoy “won’t somebody please think of the children” way, but about how much they, as the next generation of players and fans, will take from it.
The Classic Wallabies ran clinics at Dubbo and Wellington on Thursday before a couple at Kinross on Friday, and then another at Endeavour Oval on Saturday morning.
There would have been 300 kids on hand for Saturday’s, and a huge percentage of those youngsters were girls. You simply can’t overestimate how important engaging young girls is considering the continued rise of the women’s game.
I’d wager a lot of the kids probably hadn’t heard of quite a few of the Classic Wallabies guys being they were from a different era, but even so, rarely are youngsters given that kind of access to so many stars in their own backyard.
I’m not going to send out a ‘give back to grassroots’ cry here because although regional areas are oft overlooked, whinging about it isn’t the way to rectify the situation.
Doing something is.
And this program did something in Orange on the weekend, and it’s incredibly encouraging to hear the Classic Wallabies guys talk about how excited they are to continue going to regional areas in future years.
Monetary benefits are great for regional areas and clubs, but the real benefit comes in the development of the next generation of players and last weekend was monumental for that.
It’s massive in a time when fans are becoming disillusioned with the sport and disengaging with it because of what’s happening at the top.
In short, for rugby fans, it just doesn’t get much better than last weekend.
Two more things before I go back to planning how to nullify the All Blacks’ props at next year’s World Cup.
To all the kids whose merchandise I devalued by signing it, I’m sorry.
Have you ever tried to explain to a kid who thinks you’re important why they don’t actually want your signature? Even when you do, the disappointment on their face if you don’t sign their ball or hat is absolutely heartbreaking.
Trust me, it’s easier to just sign it, enjoy the fact you’ve made them smile and let them run off happy as Larry not knowing you're really a bludger that can’t even keep up in a Blowes Clothing Cup game.
And to Dubbo Kangaroos skipper and Central West Barbarians second-rower Shaun McHugh… that try you scored on Saturday? I absolutely let you fend me off and leave me clutching at air on your way to the line*.
*I definitely didn’t, and my sternum still hurts from your dinner plate-sized left hand.
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