Wrapping Up 2023 Rugby Year in Uncanny Ability to Transcend Frustrations
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It’s only mid-November, but given what a wild ride it’s been, now feels like a good time to wrap up the 2023 rugby year. 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.
Despite the anger, cynicism and the needless obstacles the sport provides for itself, 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; four sides of the highest quality, playing with skill and intent, showcasing all that is brilliant about the sport.
Nevertheless, rugby too often resembles a modern-day suburban shopping strip: a couple of shiny, gleaming real estate offices, a long-standing pizza shop, a dodgy massage parlour, maybe a hairdresser and a promising new café, dotted between sad-looking, graffiti-covered, vacant shop fronts. All of it virtually unnoticed by people hastening by; time-poor, captive to new technology and a changed world order.
That’s a challenge amateur rugby clubs have been facing for three decades, some more successfully than others; retaining the fabric of their local club and community, maintaining 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, struggling for visibility in a changing media environment and, for rugby’s administrators, striking the right balance between respect for rugby’s essence, culture and traditions, growing safety concerns, technology advances, and the imperative for rugby appeal to new audiences. This photo of Rob Valetini consoling Nick Frost of Australia at full-time following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Wales and Australia at Parc Olympique on September 24, 2023 in Lyon, France appears in the article. Published by Hannah Peters of Getty Images.
This picture is from Getty Images by Hannah Peters. It is from an article discussing the Rugby World Cup 2023 match between Wales and Australia at Parc Olympique, in France’s Lyon. The image shows Wallabies Captain Will Skelton speaking to the squad after their rugby World Cup loss to Wales.
All of this from a man who insisted last week that “all major decisions have proper governance around them,” and who has made a virtue of fiscally responsible financial management supposedly differentiating his administration from previous iterations. Note also how McLennan’s media intrusions never extend beyond paywall-protected, self-penned newspaper columns and carefully managed one-on-one TV interviews. Uppercuts or not, at least Jones was always man enough to face the media and field unscripted questions.
Down here among the pitchforks, it’s important not to lose context. Nobody who was in Lyon to experience Australia’s demoralising 40-6 loss to Wales will forget how despairing and angry they felt – at the wholly dispiriting nature of the loss, and for having allowed themselves to be taken for a ride to nowhere by McLennan and Jones. As for Jones, while he naturally generated the most headlines, given how it was always privately understood that he was only going to be around for a year, his ‘will he or won’t he be sacked?’ was never the real story.
With that, and the rugby article comes to an end.