Rugby must work harder to retain Indigenous players: Cheika

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Donning an Indigenous jersey will be special  for the Wallabies on Saturday, but coach Michael Cheika says the gesture will be just that unless rugby works harder to retain Indigenous talent.

Australia has had just 14 Indigenous Wallabies through its history, with Kurtley Beale the only Indigenous player in the current setup.

It’s a stark contrast to other football codes, flush with an over-representation of Aboriginal stars.

Cheika said the jersey was a significant touch and donning it would certainly be meaningful for the players, who have been great drivers of the initiative, but the next step was ensuring there was long-term change in the game.

“We're not going to try and pretend you wear a jersey and everything (changes,” he said.

“It's about the intent to say, ‘We need to be doing better in that area and we embrace the parts of that culture that are with us’,.

“We've had many fine players, Indigenous persons who have played for the Wallabies and they've been represented in that jersey but it's also a sign for the future that says, 'Have a look at the talent that's out there'.

“They're (Indigenous players) playing in AFL and rugby league and we'd like to think that rugby union's something that those talented footballers would like to be a part of.”

Cheika couldn’t pinpoint a specific reason why the code came up short, but admitted there was more work to be done in keeping talented juniors.

“It's just the way it is at this point,” he said.

“I see the talent that's out there and I know with a little bit more concerted effort from our end, that we will get one more here, one more there - I’m talking at the elite level.

“At the junior level there's a lot of kids playing, there's no doubt about that.

“It's about transitioning those kids into the elite level and getting more role models so we can go that way.

“I think we're making good advances in that direction, we're planning to do that and then it's up to us to do as good a job as we can to attract those kids to play the game.”

The Wallabies will be the first national team to wear a specially-designed Indigenous jersey when they run out against the All Blacks on Saturday night.

"A lot of that's been driven by the team and they're going to be very proud to run out in that jersey on Saturday night, I think that makes it even more memorable," Cheika said.

Australia hosts New Zealand in Brisbane on Saturday October 21, kicking off at 7pm AEST, 8pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Netowrk Ten, Win and RADIO.