Walsh: Reconcile our love for the game and restore it

by Tim Walsh

It is time for rugby to look forward and reconcile our love for the game with a plan to restore it.

I am a rugby tragic and from the moment I took to the field as a five-year-old at Easts Tigers in Brisbane I fell in love with everything this game had to offer.

I grew up dreaming of raising trophies with the Reds and Wallabies on rugby's biggest stage, aspiring to be like Wallabies Michel Lynagh, Brett Papworth, Tim Horan, John Eales and Elton Flatley.

I played in a time of fierce competition and limited opportunity where, with just three Super Rugby teams, only the very best made it to the top and Australian rugby was on top of the world.

I never completely fulfilled my childhood dreams, though, not because of a lack of desire or dedication, I simply was not good enough.

Though I never played a Test (although played alongside some of the greats), I still had a professional playing career filled with all the values and perks the game had to offer.

Rugby provided me with the values, behaviours, cultural experiences, friendships and lasting relationships that the sport offers and I believe it nurtured me into a good citizen.

I look at the discussions of recent weeks around the 2018 Super Rugby competition through this lens but also that of a sevens coach, who senses opportunity.

Though I have mainly been involved in women's sevens, this is about the men and the opportunities that are now amplified for a group of players.

Sevens is the catalyst and vehicle to the growth of rugby participation globally, particularly in the women's game, but what is possibly underestimated is how Sevens can produce better Wallabies.

World Rugby Sevens exposes players and magnifies and enhances their skill set, demanding players to perform fundamental rugby skills under extreme pressure.

These skills are far from sevens-specific and the progression of players like Bernard Foley, David Croft, Matt Giteau and Sean McMahon would hint that they just might be incredibly useful.

A new high performance centre will be built this year, serving as the base for all national rugby teams, but largely catering to the two full-time centralised teams; Australia's men’s and women’s Sevens programs.

Our goal should be to create an environment where the individual is given the opportunity to perform at their best, wherever that may be.

Maybe Sevens and XVs could be linked financially, with integrated contracts that encourage players to play both codes or a plan to transition at a particular point, giving programs and players a long-term strategy.

All that would do is formalise what we see already with the Sevens crop – this year alone a handful of the Rio Olympians have bobbed up across Super Rugby.

From a sports business perspective, we can all see the financial benefits of grassroots sevens participation, all the way at the top with sell-out crowds at the Sydney 7s and various domestic tournaments beginning to make their presence felt in the Australian sporting landscape.

The loss of a Super Rugby team, albeit disappointing, provides the opportunity for the Sevens to step up in the talent pathway and fill a different role, with a stronger alignment between the Wallabies and Super Rugby clubs.

The potential for Olympic gold is one thing but Sevens plays a key role and offers unique benefits to when it comes to enhancing the production of better Wallabies.

The rebranding of men’s Sevens and where it is positioned in the hierarchy of ARU performance is essential and this means a concentrated effort to encourage the best young talent to see sevens as the pathway and a career.

We need to view sevens as a strategic tool to grow the game and assist players and coaches to reach their full potential as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Aussie Sevens Coach Tim Walsh is Gold Medal Olympic Coach and a former Super Rugby, Club and Australian Sevens player.


The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.