Well there was a bit of kerfuffle about that refereeing decision, wasn’t there? Plenty of if-a, could-a, would-a, should-a, but-a’s tied up in that one.
In amongst all the volleying back and forth between officials, players, fans, media, blokes who were there, blokes who weren’t, it’s probably worth remembering the game has been decided. It’s over. We can argue all we like – go right back to the legitimacy of the coin toss if we must – but not a lot’s going to change. Perhaps the name of the ref in charge of the final, but that’s about it.
As a final word, I reckon it’s worth taking a leaf of Conrad Smith’s book. The All Blacks’ centre was on the end of a similarly dud decision, when captaining Wellington in a Super Rugby match a few years ago, an “illegal” try awarded after full-time which cost his team the match. But Smith, a barrister, refused point blank to apportion blame. “We simply didn’t play well enough. If we had, the try we conceded wouldn’t have mattered.” OK, he wasn’t playing in a World Cup Quarter-final, but still pretty impressive, Your Honour. Look in the mirror, not through it.
Joubert’s whistle aside, how about Michael Cheika’s stock price at the moment? Talk about a bull market. No sellers, just buyers – at any price. He’s the saviour. The Messiah. The catalyst of a new era. A winning era. I really like what he did after the close shave with Scotland, deliberately diverting attention away from his players and onto his own performance. “I’ve got to get them better prepared. I let them down.” Pretty smart right there. The week before, he was chattin’ away to the French and Italian journos in their native tongue. Could have done the Saudi Arabian newshounds as well, but their team didn’t qualify. Multi lingual. Multi talented.
It’s extraordinary to think it was only 12 months ago that Ewen McKenzie took that lonely stroll through the bowels of Suncorp stadium, a sad and downcast figure, after stunning the Rugby world with his resignation as Wallaby coach.
In the day and weeks immediately after, the game and the Wallaby brand would plummet to an all time low, with players, management and officials engaging in an undignified volley of “he-said-she-said-well-they-started-it” type assertions.
The person charged with the responsibility of making the team run smoothly was at the epicentre of the conflict. She departed. Kurtley Beale, a key combatant, was warned. Again. And McKenzie disappeared. Regrettably, he has not been seen in Rugby circles since.
A week, as the saying goes, can be a long time in sport. Try a year on for size. The Wallabies of October 2015, when compared with 12 months ago, are largely unrecognisable, certainly on the field where quality opposition is being held at bay through sheer tenacity, determination and courage.
Cheika is receiving all the accolades for the turnaround, and well he might. He’s done an outstanding job, rebuilding a culture of accountability, his starting point no more complicated than reminding his players that amid all the pressures and expectations, they should never lose sight of one thing. They’re playing a game.
Yes Cheika, a wealthy man in his own right, can afford to treat his employment as Wallaby coach with a little “devil may care” attitude. He’s not driven by the need to secure or protect his job. He’s just calling it as he sees it. What a wonderful thing. A few pollies should give it a go.
Without wanting to rip the cape off Superman, the rebuilding of the Wallaby culture started well before Cheika. Even before McKenzie, it started at the tail end of the Robbie Deans era, when a couple of old hard bald heads in Nathan Sharpe and Stephen Moore crashed their way into the team cockpit, grabbed whatever it is that steers the plane, and set off on a new flight path.
The Deans experiment of hitching his wagon to the bright and brilliant young things – Hewie, Dewie and Lewie – had not worked. In fact it had been a miserable failure. Too much “I” and “me”, not enough “we”. Sharpe, you’d remember, had been asked to lead the team, in the absence of the logical alternatives, all of whom were injured. He accepted, but there were “Ts and Cs” in the contract. Provisos. He and his kindred spirit Moore would take command, the rest of the motley crew would take their seats at the back of the plane. And buckle up. There’s be no walking into team meetings five minutes late, spooning the last bit of a bowl of cereal into your mouth. There’d be no texting while they were talking. There would be standards – non negotiable standards around anything and everything team related.
Michael Hooper was the first victim, turning up 30 seconds late to a meeting and finding the door slammed in his face.
Robbie Deans tried to intervene. No let him in. He has a valid reason. He said he got stuck in the lift.
“Robbie – I don’t care. He’s late. Hoops – piss off. Late for a meeting, late for the tackle.” A distressed Hooper, Australia’s man of the match against the All Blacks just two nights prior, departed – excluded until the meeting was adjourned.
Expectations. Standards. How many times do you reckon Hooper’s been late for a meeting since?
Sharpe of course disembarked at the end of that season, but his 2012 co-pilot is still right in the thick of it, the master controller of a now united crew, requiring less and less direction all the time. They know where they’re going. They know what they are doing. This World Cup campaign had been testimony to that. Some of it might not have been pretty, but gritty? You bet. They look and play like they’re closely knit.
Like all good marketers, Cheika has challenged his Wallaby squad to develop their own trade mark. What do they want to be remembered for?
The picture is becoming clearer every Test match.
Sheer grit and determination. And where they need to be, right on time.
Third Half Athlete of the Month
Seems almost an eon ago now, but what about Jonathan Thurston’s contribution to the end of the Rugby League season? Have you seen a better grasp of “whole of game” commitment? He ticked all the boxes – Rugby League, teammates, opponents (particularly his advice to befallen opposite number Ben Hunt), family, fans (the headgear gesture), media, sponsors – even dragged the Pollies into it. Thurston was text book – an ornament to the game. If he could be an ornament to himself, he’d be that too. A couple of weeks ago, a mate who was in Townsville on business was sitting by himself in a restaurant, having a late meal. Guess who wandered over to say hello, just to see how he was going? The King might be still be the King of Suncorp, but Thurston’s got the North sewn up.
The Golden Lance for Brand Erosion
On the strength of some early allegations, Hazem El Masri had had a bottler, hasn’t he? Pretty hefty fall from grace right there, if what’s been alleged to have happened has actually happened. At the risk of being seen to be defending the indefensible, we need to be careful. There was an athlete not so long ago, who was dragged into the Court of Public Condemnation, on account of similar “allegations” – and absolutely vilified. If people really knew what happened, they’d want to wrap their arms around him and buy him a beer. The court will decide what El Masri did or didn’t do, and how he should be dealt with. Until then, everybody should probably butt out, including me.
Also not a good month for: Tigers NRL player Matthew Lodge – in the big house in New York, on account of taking too big a bite out of the Big apple. Sounds like quite a few issues there. Pain killing drugs again involved I’m told. A month prior, it was a couple of Rabbitoh players who discovered pain relief shouldn’t be washed down with 10 litres of alcohol. Harsh lessons, particularly for Lodge. Can’t imagine the Rikers Island jail complex is on too many NY tourist destination bucket lists.
Thought for the month:
The standards you walk past are the standards you accept.