Before anything else crazy happens like Hamish McLennan offering Mal Meninga the Wallabies coaching job or video emerging of gin-sozzled World Rugby delegates slapping each other on the back for locking developing nations out of their exclusive club until at least the 2030s, let’s wrap up the 2023 rugby year in mid-November. Despite the anger, cynicism and the needless obstacles, rugby in 2023 once again demonstrated an uncanny ability to transcend its frustrations. Attending quarter-final weekend in France was a privilege as close to rugby heaven as one could possibly hope to get.
Nevertheless, rugby too often resembles a modern-day suburban shopping strip, virtually unnoticed by people hastening by due to time-poor, new technology and a changed world order. It’s a challenge for clubs retaining participation rates and – most importantly – love for the game. Increasingly, it’s a challenge for professional rugby; keeping the books balanced in the face of fierce competition from other sports.
Rugby Australia chairman McLennan has dug in, emboldened by a mix of rampant self-belief and self-entitlement. Essentially, the problem boils down to McLennan having broken the trust contract with Australian rugby’s stakeholders. Rugby fans found the spending of $1 million alone on psychologists to work with Jones’ squad unacceptable. McLennan’s media intrusions never extend beyond paywall-protected, self-penned newspaper columns and carefully managed one-on-one TV interviews. He also pumped up Jones, predicting how his “deep understanding of our rugby system and knowledge of our player group and pathways will lift the team to the next level”. Rassie Erasmus ended the year confirmed as the new Springboks coach, and with the announcement of the new Nations Championship, everyone knew exactly where they stood: forgotten.