When we look at the much improved Wallabies performance against the All Blacks at Eden Park and then a scintillating win against the Welsh at Millennium Stadium it would be easy to attribute it all to hard training in camp and the experience of a long Test Season.
This would be very superficial however, as behind the hard training has been a national competition called the Buildcorp National Rugby Championship.
This short competition played nationally has received much criticism from different sectors of the rugby community.
Firstly must I state, there is no bigger supporter of club rugby than myself. I started playing rugby when I was 4 years old at the Narrabeen Tigers. I then made the Warringah Rats representative team spend every Saturday ball-boying for the senior Rats teams from 5th grade through to first 1st grade.
This is where I learnt the importance of club rugby. The community spirit that is so unique to the game of rugby. Club rugby is what made me appreciate the game and what made me as a rugby player.
In my opinion, club rugby will always be an absolutely critical soul of rugby in Australia and it needs to be embraced for its importance.
Club rugby and the National Rugby Championship can co-exist and can in fact benefit from each other. This year’s NRC was a massive improvement on the previous year’s tournaments.
The skill level exhibited during the tournament was as good, if not better than that I witnessed in New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup and South Africa’s Currie Cup.
Whilst the tournament does not yet have the tribalism of club rugby, it is providing an environment for players who are excelling in their local club competition to experience the next level up and gain experience in being in a semi-professional environment for a short period of time.
Not only does the competition provide less experienced players a chance to excel, it provides more experienced super rugby and test players to gain valuable high quality match time to ensure they are match fit for when their next Wallaby opportunity may be.
The Wallabies are seeing the benefit of this competition now as they embark on an attempt to win their first Grand Slam since 1984. The team is fit, match hardened and eager to develop into the formidable side we saw at last year’s Rugby World Cup.
When I received a call from the ARU a few weeks before the final of the NRC asking me if I would accept the Man of the Match of the NRC final being named the ‘Phil Waugh Medal’ I was truly honoured?
I am a traditionalist and appreciate the game and those who have played it well before my time, so when this was mooted and I was to be recognised in this way I was genuinely humbled and proud.
When the Perth Spirit beat the NSW Country Eagles in this year’s NRC Final in Tamworth, there were numerous Wallabies, Super Rugby and hopeful super rugby players on the field. Led exceptionally well by an experienced front row the Perth Spirit played with far too much physicality and maturity for the Country Eagles.
The stand-out performer for me was a young fresh backrower called Richard Hardwick.
Some may say I was a little biased when I awarded the inaugural Phil Waugh Medal to a young and enthusiastic number 7, but for me this epitomised the Buildcorp NRC.
A young ‘no-name’ stepping up in an environment full of Wallabies and Super Rugby players to outperform them is the reason why this competition has prove it's worth.
Phil Waugh is a former Wallabies Captain, who from 1999 through until the end of 2011 earned 79 Test caps for the Wallabies (3 as Captain) and 136 caps (58 as captain) with Waratahs.
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.