To Have Your Heart Broken and Come Back: That’s what it’s all about – and why I’ll be watching Edmed this weekend


Tane Edmed is not the reason the Waratahs lost to the Highlanders.

Except to the extent that, you know, he kind of is. A bit.

It’s complicated. One the one hand, obviously he’s not. The Highlanders scored 23 points, and Edmed was not the reason for them all. The Waratahs, conversely, could’ve scored more than 21, and although Edmed missed one chance for them to score more, it was not the only chance that passed the team by.

However, there is one bald, undeniable fact: if Edmed had kicked the penalty goal he attempted after the fulltime siren, the Waratahs would have won. There is no escaping that. When he lined the shot up, the possible future was binary: he kicks it and they win; he misses and they lose. Everyone knew it. Everyone knows it still. Tane Edmed knows it more than anyone. He always will.

Now, every Waratahs player will look back on that loss, as every player does after every loss, and think about those moments when, had they done this instead of that, maybe the outcome would be different. But only Edmed knows for sure, without doubt, one hundred per cent, that the outcome would definitely have been different, if he’d done one thing differently.

That’s got to hurt, doesn’t it? It must be devastating. Anyone who goes through such an experience must feel an ache inside, no matter how much your teammates get around you, no matter how much your coach tells you it wasn’t your fault, no matter how much you tell yourself that everyone makes mistakes and there’s no shame in it – and that’s perfectly true – it’s got to hurt.

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Tane Edmed watches the ball fly off the tee against the Highlanders at Allianz Stadium, on March 08, 2024, in Sydney. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

These moments happen all the time in sport. Goals are missed, catches are dropped, putts go wide. Runners stumble and gymnasts slip and tennis players double fault on match point. At the highest level, these moments cost games, championships, gold medals, world cups. And the athletes who suffer them, surely, are crushed. It can safely be said that missing the opportunity to make all your dreams come true, in front of an audience of thousands-to-millions, leaves a scar.

When you or I suffer the most agonising heartbreak we’ve ever experienced, we most likely think the best thing to do is to try our best to avoid suffering such a thing again. You’ll lead a happier life, we think, if you do your best not to invite soul-crushing catastrophe into it any more than necessary.

And that is why you and I are not professional athletes (if any professional athletes are reading this, I apologise, and can I have your autograph?). Because the job of an elite sportsperson is to confront the possibility of disaster, and if that disaster comes to pass, to dust yourself off, and confront it again, and again, and again.

It’s why Nathan Lyon has bowled so many match-winning spells since he muffed the run-out that would’ve won the Ashes at Headingley in 2019. It’s why David Campese became Australia’s greatest-ever try scorer even after the world condemned him for the loss to the Lions in 1989. It’s why Jana Novotna crumpled into tears on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder after blowing her chance to win Wimbledon in 1993, and five years later won the damn thing.

And it why Tane Edmed, when the time comes for another last-second match-winning goal to be attempted, will step up, place the ball upon the tee, measure out his approach, take a deep breath, and have another crack.

It’s his job. It’s what he signed up for. This weekend, despite the broken heart he had to nurse after last weekend, he’ll suit up for the chance to have his heart broken all over again. When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing – these people are just built differently to normal folk.

Edmed is far from alone, of course. There is a large number of Australian rugby players who must currently still be feeling the pain of the worst time of their career – only instead of one crooked kick, it was a whole World Cup campaign. Those who dreamed of going to the Cup but were denied the chance by the coach’s caprices must have been shattered. Those who actually did go to the Cup must have been all the more shattered.

Tane Edmed is comforted by Angus Bell after missing a match-winning penalty against the Highlanders at Allianz Stadium, on March 08, 2024, in Sydney. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

There is a fear, a not unreasonable one, that the trauma of the 2023 World Cup could be the ruination of many a player. How do players – particularly the younger ones – recover from an internationally observed public humiliation, one that took the form of their fondest childhood ambitions collapsing in a screaming flaming heap?

I honestly don’t know. But I know that most of those players have come back to take the field in Super Rugby this year, and a lot of them seem to be doing quite well. Many of them will be pulling on a Wallaby jersey later this year, and when they do they will doubtless recall the last time they donned the gold, and a flood of horrific memories will wash through them.

Jordan Petaia, Mark Nawaqanitawase and Andrew Kellaway after going down to Wales at the Rugby World Cup. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

It will probably not be easy. But when you want to be great, you have to take the risk that life is going to kick you in the face and leave you crying in the dirt, and when that actually happens, you have to stand back up and invite life to have another shot.

I’ll be cheering Tane Edmed more than any other player this weekend, but for the whole year I’ll be giving my full-throated support to every Australian rugby player, as five Super teams and one batch of Wallabies seek whatever redemption can be found in this silly game of ours.

Because the willingness to re-enter the furnace after you’ve already been burnt to a crisp once…well, isn’t that the reason we follow these guys in the first place?

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