Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: One lucky country, one unlucky - now the big loser's got to start learning to win

The Lions' win was only part of the Wallabies downward slide. Photot / Getty Images
The Lions' win was only part of the Wallabies downward slide. Photot / Getty Images

It's hard to fathom why so many Kiwis are lured to Australian rugby considering the vastly different state of the game in the two countries.

While the game in New Zealand hasn't had things this good since the dawn of the professional age, the picture is worryingly bleak across the Tasman. If the Wallabies spent too long comparing and contrasting, they might decide not to turn up on Saturday. The playing field is hardly level.

The All Blacks are coming into the third Bledisloe unbeaten. They have lost only one of their last 30 tests.

They have unearthed a legion of new stars such as Steven Luatua, Sam Cane, Beauden Barrett and Charles Piutau. They have locked in most of their big names - Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock until the World Cup and have some certainty that Sonny Bill Williams will come back.

The Rugby Union this year posted a pre-tax profit and revealed it has $50 million in the bank - and that after increasing the investment in grassroots and provincial rugby.

A few weeks ago, an improved collective agreement was unveiled - one that increase the total payment pool and gives players more than they have ever had.

For New Zealand, it is the best of times. For Australia... it is the worst of times. They lost the Lions series - falling to a record defeat in the decider. They have already failed to win back the Bledisloe. They were pumped twice by the Boks, scraped past the Pumas in Perth and have won only three of their last nine tests.

The young men they hoped would win a new following among the Australian public have turned out to be the sort that maybe the Australian Rugby Union should have run a mile from.

James O'Connor has had his contract terminated, Kurtley Beale fights his demons (and teammates) and Quade Cooper appears to be denying club rugby in Tokoroa a perfectly good journeyman.

Worse is to come. Such consistent underachievement is starting to bite financially.

The Wallabies play to an increasingly large back-drop of empty seats and that has been a contributor to the game losing almost $20 million in the last two years.

The ARU is in crisis mode as it tries to cut costs and the players and their $14,000 per test payment are in their sights.

A new collective will shortly be ratified that will reduce that figure and perhaps even introduce incentive payments. No win - no pay, or at least vastly reduced pay.

It's a small wonder the Wallabies weren't forced to bus, possibly even hitch to Dunedin from Queenstown yesterday, such is the need to curb spending.

Somehow New Zealand versus Australia is David versus Goliath these days - but the two countries are cast entirely against all rightful expectation.

Little brother hasn't just called "shotgun", he's taken the keys, the car, the road ... everything.

It's reached the point where there are only two options now for the game in Australia. The first is that the Aussies throw their arms up and spiral down the plughole. That's not in keeping with the classic Aussie battler mentality. Surrender isn't in their DNA.

The second option is that, starting this Saturday, they dig deep and conjure the spirit of Ned Kelly, the single-mindedness of Rupert Murdoch and the self-belief of Jimmy Spithill to pull off one of the bravest and unlikeliest victories.

Nothing would be more quintessentially Australian than winning against the odds. Nothing would kick-start their recovery better than such a victory. And nothing is about what they will have left if they don't, at the very least, show genuine heart and desire on Saturday.

- NZ Herald

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