Imagine this Test series without Eddie Jones or Michael Cheika
By Sam Ryan
On Saturday night I sat down and watched the rugby with some mates, most of whom weren’t typical rugby fans.
Usually, this is quite a painful experience and I spend the majority of the match defending the code and guarding the remote to avoid watching two league teams run into each other in front of 8,000 people.
But on Saturday night, something was different.
The peanut gallery sat enthralled as both sides put their bodies on the line in one of the most physical confrontations you could legally televise on prime time TV.
“Forget Origin, these blokes are real men,” one said to my absolute delight.
At half time they asked why this match was so different to most rugby games that they’d watched and after initially arguing that it wasn’t, I conceded that there was a difference.
The sides, I explained, were coached by two of the most passionate and intelligent rugby brains in the world.
Two former teammates, taught to play the game the way it was meant to be played and for all the right reasons.
Neither, Eddie Jones or Michael Cheika played for the Wallabies. Sure, they both had stints in professional programs, but the majority of their rugby education occurred at one place… Coogee Oval and the Randwick rugby club.
It got me thinking about this Test series and what it would have been like without the likes of Jones or Cheika.
You see if the pair were playing today, they wouldn’t rate a mention under the current ARU regime, as outlined in the Strategic Plan released earlier this year.
Jones and Cheika were merely club players, who wouldn’t be talented enough for an elite program and the ARU funding that comes with it.
Even though their registration fees and an additional player levy would help the ARU stay afloat in recent years, their club and hundreds of others like it wouldn’t see a single cent of funding from its national governing body.
Fortunately, in years gone by grassroots clubs like Randwick were able to nurture countless Wallabies on the field.
But perhaps just as importantly, they helped mould two of the best coaches Australian and perhaps World Rugby will ever see.
Grassroots clubs supported administrators, doctors, officials and lifelong fans and helped shape generations of young men and women who would go on to succeed in numerous fields.
But things are a little different now.
Grassroots rugby clubs around Australia are desperate for assistance but the Australian Rugby Union just don’t care.
Apparently, grassroots rugby is a state issue, so the ARU can wipe their hands clean of that, and do so while they’re counting the cash from a new five year, $285 million broadcast deal.
I’m not just talking about 12 Shute Shield clubs in Sydney. This issue affects more than 800 registered rugby clubs right around Australia.
Almost every one of them is struggling financially yet not one Australian grassroots rugby club will receive a single cent of funding under the new Strategic Plan.
Instead, the ARU will tell us where the money should go and to be fair, a lot of it will be well spent.
But surely some of it could be made available to grassroots clubs. Not as a “hand out”, but on a case by case basis, where clubs could apply for funding for specific development or rugby programs.
Because something is better than nothing and that’s what clubs are getting at the moment.
The theatre Jones and Cheika have created both on and off the field in recent weeks has been nothing short of amazing and the ARU are expected to record a surplus this year as a result of the three sold out matches against England.
So wouldn’t it be nice if some of the cash that Jones and Cheika helped generate made its way back to grassroots rugby?
Because this Test series certainly wouldn’t be the same without them.