Scotty Stevenson: Australia's rugby struggles no laughing matter

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Jordy Reid of the Rebels looks dejected during their mauling by the Crusaders. Photo / Getty
Jordy Reid of the Rebels looks dejected during their mauling by the Crusaders. Photo / Getty

Understandably, New Zealanders have been enjoying the chance to rub Australian rugby's nose in it lately. As if it wasn't fun enough to watch the Wallabies whipped by the English in three straight test matches, last weekend's round of Super Rugby may go down as one of the worst in the history of the sport across The Ditch. Oh the hilarity. Nothing like laughing at an Aussie to make an honest Kiwi feel good.

I don't mean to rain on the hubristic parade here, but I wonder how wise it is to revel in this latest rugby reality check for our transtasman brethren. Surely we want the Australian conference to be competitive, if only so New Zealand fans can have some reinforcement for their argument that the South African group is staggeringly weak. If you consider the fact that the current set up requires New Zealand teams to play each of the Australian teams, you could argue that the Australasian group is not exactly a lot tougher.

In today's Herald, Wynne Gray pointed out that so far New Zealand teams have played 24 matches against Australian opposition, winning 20, drawing one, and losing just three. Thirteen of those wins were by more than 13 points. How can anyone in their right mind read those numbers and still think Kiwi sides have been robbed by the competition structure? Having to play every Australian side this season has been nothing short of a gift from above.

It's been terribly generous of Australian rugby to give us this kind of competition boost, and yet Kiwis are laughing in their faces. The lack of gratitude is staggering.

I don't know what's going on with Australian Rugby. The Force couldn't win an in-house training game, and have instead taken to playing up off the field. The Reds sacked their coach and got worse. The Rebels' assistant coach walked out of the club (and not without reason gauging by reports from Melbourne). The Waratahs thought about sacking their coach but realised he was probably the one thing they had going for them.

That leaves the Brumbies, a team that has spent the last 17 weeks perfecting the crowd pleasing art of the lineout drive. How on earth are broadcasters not throwing the chequebook at the sport over there? Nothing says ratings winner like Stephen Moore falling over the try line under a pile of forwards.

It's really no laughing matter. One Australian journalist friend sent me a message yesterday asking if I had seen anything funny over the weekend, "apart from Australians trying to play rugby". That's pretty harsh, even for an Aussie. And it's quite sad, too, considering the Wallabies are the reigning Rugby Championship trophy holders and that just nine months ago they were playing in a Rugby World Cup final.

I hope they can find their mojo again. New Zealand netball could tell you all about being on the wrong side of the transtasman ledger, and it's not a good place to be. The demise of the ANZ Championship is proof of that. For the sake of the competition we need these blokes to be at least competitive, and Lord knows Australian rugby battles enough for eyeballs and interest without being humiliated by New Zealanders on a weekly basis.

Australians will tolerate plenty - just look at their last election - but they don't take kindly to sporting embarrassment. What would be even more embarrassing for them would be to see the Blues record a bonus point win against the Waratahs this weekend and the Brumbies lose to the Force without nabbing a point of their own. If happens, we could find ourselves looking at a group table in which every New Zealand team has more competition points than the best Australian team.

Let's not go there, please. Come on Australian Rugby, you're better than this. We're not laughing at you, we're here for you. And if you need motivation then surely you can find some in this point: there's only one thing worse than a Kiwi laughing at you, and that's one who feels sorry for you.

- NZ Herald

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