Former Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O’Neill has called for an independent review of all aspects of the game.
- The former Australian Rugby Union president says all aspects of the game require “independent and conflict-free” review.
- His call was backed by the chairman of a rugby technical advisory committee.
- Rugby Australia says it no longer requires testing
O’Neill’s call follows the Wallabies’ 40-6 defeat to Wales in the Rugby World Cup and ahead of what is likely to be the Wallabies’ final World Cup match against Portugal on Monday morning (AEDT).
“The truth is Australian rugby has a major systemic problem and it’s been going on for a while,” O’Neill told ABC Sport.
“Essentially we are now on life support,” he said.
He said Rugby Australia (RA) needed to carry out a review of the game.
“It must be independent, without conflict or personal interest,” he said.
“My own language on this is that Rome has been burning for some time – it didn’t happen by chance.
“The exam must cover everything, everything must be on the table.”
O’Neill said the game’s problems start at the grassroots and go all the way to the elite level of the game.
- Follow all the action from the Wallabies’ Rugby World Cup Final pool match on the ABC Sport live blog from 1am AEDT on Monday.
He said the lack of pathway and proper development of juniors, as well as the poaching of talented players by rugby league, had undermined the 15-man code.
His call for an independent review was backed by former Western Force chairman Geoff Stooke.
“I think John is right, there needs to be an independent review – there’s no point in judging Caeser,” Stooke said.
These views, however, are not shared by Rugby Australia.
In a statement to the ABC, an RA spokesperson said: “There is no shortage of reporting within Australian rugby. We don’t need more – we need action.
“These reports have led to the plan we are now embarking on to unify the community game, the Super Rugby level and our elite international teams.”
Ahead of the World Cup, RA announced that the game would pursue “a historic reset” with the aim of “greater success on and off the pitch”.
Stooke approached RA in 2020 offering to create a technical advisory committee, which was approved by the lead organization.
The committee was set up by Stooke, former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer, former skipper Nick Farr-Jones and administrator and former national coaching director Dick Marks.
The quartet were joined by former Wallabies Barry Honan and Roger Gould and began talking to rugby clubs and coaches across the country.
The committee wrote an article for RA in 2020 on how to solve the game’s problems at a grassroots level and on player development.
Stooke said there was a lack of quality coaches at junior level.
“Player development was becoming too exclusive, some players capable of playing at schoolboy level, for example, were given a star on the bum and then almost by default progressed to the under-20s and then to the super teams,” Stooke said.
“And we felt there were a lot of players missing in those runs.
“What that basically meant was we had the athletes; they were just as big, just as fast, just as strong, but we felt the skill development was lacking.”
Stooke said his report to RA had been largely ignored.
“Virtually nothing has been implemented,” Stooke said.
“Ultimately, two members of my committee (Honan and Gould) resigned due to the frustrations they felt.”
David Lyons, current president of the Sydney University Rugby Club and former World Cup wallaby, is also frustrated with the current state of Australian rugby.
“So many young kids – before they really have a lot of tough matches under their belt – are sent to professional contracts, without really playing and without having any hours under their belt,” Lyons said.
He said Australian rugby was strongest when there were only three Super Rugby teams instead of the current five.
“Three successful Super Rugby teams,” he said.
“There was a lot of competition for places, and because of that we probably had stronger competition because there weren’t as many opportunities for those people in the club competitions and they had to really earn their stripes week after week before getting a chance in professional rugby.
“I don’t think Super Rugby offers those kinds of lessons like it used to.”
O’Neill said you couldn’t fix the Wallabies without fixing the foundation of the game.
“There’s a great saying in rugby: the bigger the base, the higher the pyramid,” O’Neill said.
“All major stakeholders in Australian rugby, put your self-interest in your pocket and let’s act in the best interests of the game.”
Despite a poor run of results since his return to senior coaching, with just one win in eight matches so far this year, O’Neill believes Eddie Jones remains the right man to coach the Wallabies.
“Sacking the manager is almost always the first solution, but you really have to look at the players on the pitch and any performance issues,” O’Neill said.
“And now there’s already a pile-on on Eddie, and we still have a game to play against Portugal.
“You know, (take a) time-out, take a deep breath, and then (do) an appropriate assessment when all emotions have calmed down.”
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