As I read through Joe Tomane’s departure message to Brumbies fans I couldn’t help but wonder if we’re reaching a turning point in Australian Rugby.
For years we’ve seen senior players in the twilight of their careers opt for a final dash for cash in France or Japan. More recently, however, some of the finest young talent in the country have chosen to trade meat pies for baguettes or sushi. Matt Toomua was outstanding for the Wallabies in his return match against England, he too will be plying his trade in England later this year. And while one can never doubt the commitment of Nick Phipps, his form in the England series must have had selectors pining for Nick White. Not to mentioned the left boot of Jesse Mogg, who is another twenty something Australian running out for Montpellier.
In the same year that the Wallabies will be without the services of one David Pocock, Liam Gill will be frolicking about Toulon surrounded by more Australian accents than is healthy for the game in this country. And before his injury Kurtley Beale was poised to adios the ARU for a stint in the UK. These players represent a tiny snapshot of a much larger phenomenon. The talent drain is real, but what is driving it?
It’s all too easy to write player departures off to the lure of the yen and euro. No doubt the money on offer overseas is a major factor, but then it has always been easier to earn more playing rugby outside of Australia. As some of our best players stream out the door perhaps we should be wondering out loud how to stem the flow.
Though I’ve written previously about the widening void between the ‘real world’ and professional sport, it is difficult to overstate just how artificial life as modern athlete has become. Peter Ustinov said: “Since we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our minds, it is our duty to furnish it well.” There was a time when rugby players so inclined could pursue rich intellectual lives while meeting the demands of their sport - those days if not gone are certainly in their death throes.
Deepening professionalism has brought more money into rugby, but this has subtracted the most precious commodity of all from the lives of players - time.
When I arrived at the Brumbies in 2002 I was able to indulge in the simple and uniquely valuable pastime of reading. Each book was a window into a world disconnected from the bubble of sport, each page a reprieve from the cycle of training and playing.
In the final year of my time at the Brumbies I was reading a lot less. Arriving at work at 7am and often returning home well after dark is a good way to turn young men into excellent rugby players. But it is also a model that appears increasingly unsustainable. Market forces have given professional rugby players more choice than ever, if Australian Rugby is to compete with life in the South of France a rethink is needed.
Clyde Rathbone captained South Africa to a Junior Rugby World Cup in 2002 before immigrating to Australia, playing 73 matches with the ACT Brumbies and 26 for the Wallabies. He is co-founder technology of Karma.wiki
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.