SYDNEY, May 18 (Reuters) - Former Wallabies coach Alan Jones believes Australian rugby has to emulate New Zealand’s centralised approach to the game over the last decade if it is to dig itself out of what he characterised as a “crisis” in the sport.
Jones issued the call to arms against the background of Australia’s Super Rugby teams enduring a 39-match winless streak against New Zealand sides, crowds plummeting and reports of other football codes attacking rugby’s grassroots.
The 75-year-old, who led the Wallabies on their grand slam tour of Europe in 1984, said Australia needed to face their “demons” as New Zealand did after a quarter-final exit at the 2007 World Cup.
“Their predicament may not have been as grave as ours is today, but in the estimate of those in New Zealand who love their rugby, it was as bad as it could get,” Jones, now a radio talk-show host, wrote in The Australian on Friday.
“New Zealand Rugby gathered together everyone who mattered (and) they agreed to completely reorder and restructure the management and control of New Zealand rugby’s most vital assets - the players and the coaches and other support personnel.”
Back-to-back World Cup triumphs in 2011 and 2015 as well as Super Rugby titles for four of the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises have followed, making it a blueprint that Australia would be foolish not to follow, Jones said.
Jones has made little secret of his disdain for the administrators that currently run the game in Australia and launched another assault on what he believes is their self-serving attitude. “What the board of Rugby Australia don’t understand is that its real assets are not the 140-odd people who are employed at its head office doing God knows what,” he added. “The real assets aren’t even dollars and cents. The real assets are the players and the coaches and their support staff.”
Raelene Castle, who took over as chief executive of Rugby Australia four months ago, issued her own lengthy “State of the Game” missive on Friday.
The New Zealander admitted there were challenges facing rugby and that “not all elements within the game are working in unison and our organisations are not aligned as effectively as they could be in their thinking or delivery”.
The former netball administrator said she was confident that a more coordinated approach to coaching, fitness and skills work over Australia’s four Super Rugby teams would soon bear fruit.
As for the grassroots, Castle was encouraged by projects which are exposing tens of thousands of state schoolchildren to the game and said she planned to build on this success by fostering relationships with existing clubs.
Castle said Rugby Australia would not be ignoring the private schools which have traditionally provided a majority of elite players, some of which are reported to be turning to Australian Rules and rugby league.
“We will work harder at developing and keeping our most talented players through the implementation of the national schools strategy and new contracting initiatives,” she concluded.
“The challenges rugby faces are well documented and widely debated but I believe there is much to be positive about and many of the building blocks are in place to take these challenges head on.” (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Ian Ransom)