'It does players no favours': The 'mad' syndrome Australian rugby suffers

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

The trophy cabinet is so bare you could forgive Australian fans for hanging onto to shiny speck of gold but Brumbies coach Dan McKellar has pleaded with observers to cool the hype and lower their expectations of the next generation.

A day before teenage sensation Joseph Suaalii is expected to sign with South Sydney in the NRL, McKellar described the hype around the fleet-footed youngster as "madness" after a barrage of headlines surrounding the future of the year 11 student.

The dollars thrown at him and the suggestion that he could be a Wallaby before his 18th birthday or a NRL star before his first game of professional rugby is an all-too-familiar issue in sport, according to McKellar.

And while Suaalii is the easy name to spit out at the moment, the Brumbies coach says the instant-star syndrome that the media and fans label players with doesn't help their development.

"I think in Australia, someone puts in a good performance and all of a sudden they're the next Wallaby," McKellar said, asked about the development of his rookie lock pairing Darcy Swain and Nick Frost.

"We've got to be a little bit more patient around that. It gets a bit ridiculous there. It does the players no favours at all."

Following the departure of Wallaby pairing Sam Carter and Rory Arnold, Swain and Frost are not just starting for the Brumbies but could come into the frame for higher honours given the gulf in the second row in Australia at present.

The departure of Arnold, in particular, as well as Izack Rodda and Adam Coleman means there's a shortage of locks in Australia.

News, too, that Waratahs captain and Test centurion Rob Simmons could follow Rebels and three-Test lock Matt Philip overseas means the locks' well stocks are at an all-time low.

While McKellar backed the Brumbies' proven program to develop and nurture the next generation of Wallabies, he added that it was important players - and pundits - recognise that one strong half of football shouldn't be the model used for picking players for higher honours.

"Let's let Frost and Swain or Trevor Hosea from the Rebels, Esei Ha'angana, or whoever it might be, just let them develop and become good Super Rugby players, play good games consistently for their franchise, and then let's start worrying about what the future holds for them," he said.

"I think we just get a little bit too excited in any position, with any player at the moment.

"You're not going to be a good Test player off the back of a good half-an-hour at Super Rugby level or anything like that.

"It's about doing it week in, week out, doing it consistently well one game after the next. Frost, for example, had a good game last week, back it up, back it up again this week and back it up consistently and do it for the next 50 games and if you sneak a Test or two in-between then, then you're obviously playing well, but just don't rush them."

While McKellar's comment shone a light on the second-row, the battle of the two no.8s is another prime example.

Reds rookie No.8 Harry Wilson has been turning heads, including Crusaders coach and former All Black Scott Robertson, since debuting against the Brumbies earlier in the year.

The hard-working backrower is another that's been touted for stardom and spoken about as a Wallaby in 2020.

All the while the Brumbies' own no.8, 28-year-old Pete Samu, continues to get the business done and was one of his side's very best during their 24-0 win over the Force last weekend.

McKellar said that while "all the signs" were there for Wilson to one day become a successful Test player, Samu's own path to the Wallabies, which saw him debut after winning two titles with the Crusaders before returning to Australia, should be closer to the norm than "looking for a diamond in the rough".

"He's (Samu) done the hard yards over a long period of time," McKellar said.

"That'll be a really good match-up and I'm sure the Wallabies coaching staff will be watching on closely."

The Reds take on the Brumbies on Saturday August 1 at GIO Stadium, Canberra, kicking off at 7:15pm AEST, LIVE on Foxtel, Foxtel Now and Kayo Sports. Buy tickets here. Buy a Kayo subscription here.