drawings of muscles and exercise apparatus

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Too old at 30 - Australian rugby's "scrapheap" policy

The Australian rugby coach and his selectors appear to be following a quite deliberate policy of favouring emerging players over those with significant international playing experience. One consequence of this is that the Australian Super 14 franchises are being denuded of senior players who traditionally mentor and guide those who are just learning their craft.

In the Test against Ireland, the Wallabies do not have a single player aged 30 or more in their starting fifteen. Their opponents have eight, a majority of the team! The average age of our 22-man squad is 25.2 years; theirs is 27.5. Our oldest starter is 28.

Consider the average age of the most recent teams of the top ten rugby countries, i.e., Tri-Nations, Six Nations plus Argentina. Every other side's players are more than a year older than the Wallabies. And every other country has two or more starting players who are at least 30 years old.

Rugby is an unusually complex game. It takes players years to achieve real competency. And yet we are seeing a new generation of talented youngsters rushed from school into professional football and then on to the international level. A minority manage to establish themselves at the top, but I wonder whether even they achieve their full potential. In their development years they should be playing in an environment where they can dominate instead of one where they constantly struggle to survive.

Because of the centralised control of the sport by the ARU, the premature discarding of experienced players has extremely adverse impacts at the Super 14 levels and even down through the clubs. The central body dictates how much players can be paid by the franchises who are basically mendicants surviving on handouts from the centre. It is therefore only those players who are on ARU contracts who earn large incomes. Once taken off the national list players have little choice but to round out their careers in Europe or in the Bermuda Triangle of Japanese rugby.

The effect of this is that all their accumulated wisdom and experience is lost to their Super 14 teams and their clubs; basically to Australian rugby. And then people say that we don't have a large enough talent pool in Australia. The main way in which the great minds who control our sport have dealt with this problem is to buy in so-called rugby league marquee players who then spend years trying to master the fundamentals of our sport. How can young players benefit by playing with extravagantly paid blow-ins who know vastly less than they do?

It has been observed that rugby is basically war without the guns. When you're forced to slog it out in the trenches, who would you want with you? A grizzled battle-scarred veteran or an over-excited kid who believes all the hype and publicity generated about him. Small wonder that we can't string wins together.

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