The insurmountable problem facing Australian rugby in a doomed rivalry with New Zealand


Australian rugby has many problems – financial crisis, ever-shrinking audiences, shortage of coaching expertise, Greg Martin, etc etc.

But one problem which I have come to notice after many years of careful study is perhaps not mentioned enough in contemporary commentary, despite being possibly the biggest factor holding back Australian rugby success:

New Zealanders are better at rugby than Australians.

This has been clear for some time now, and it doesn’t seem likely to go away any time soon. On the weekend five Australian teams played in five games of varying flavours. In three of them, the Reds, Force and Waratahs seemed like they might be about to win, until their opponents remembered that New Zealanders are better than Australians, and beat them.

In one of them, the Crusaders remembered it right from the kickoff, and the Rebels were ruthlessly slaughtered as a result.

Captain Scott Barrett of the Crusaders leads his team onto the field prior to the round ten Super Rugby Pacific match between the Crusaders and Melbourne Rebels. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

In the fifth, of course, the Brumbies managed to win, but that’s of limited comfort: the Rebels’ result showed the awful consequences of beating a New Zealand team, and the fallout of the Brumbies’ victory will be scenes of nightmarish carnage at the Hurricanes-Waratahs game this weekend.

That’s been the pattern of Bledisloe Cup rugby for the last couple of decades too: we’ve learnt that the most reckless thing the Wallabies can possibly do is beat the All Blacks, because it just makes them angry.

Now, yes, there’s been some progress this season, as Australian Super Rugby teams have shown promise and managed to knock off Kiwi sides a few times, using subtle trickery and mind games to convince the NZers that either they’re NOT better at rugby, or that they’re SO much better at rugby they don’t need to try very hard. But we’ve thought we’ve seen progress before, and it always seems to end up with a brutal reminder of the fact:

New Zealanders are better at rugby than Australians.

Now, of course this isn’t a problem confined to Australia. Scotland, Italy, Japan, China, Germany, Suriname, Belgium and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are just a few of the countries who are also not as good at rugby as New Zealand.

But Australians are in the uniquely unhappy position of being worse at rugby than New Zealanders, while also having to play against them about a hundred times a year. What bliss it must be to live in a country where you only have to play New Zealanders sporadically, or not at all!

But the question is WHY? Why are New Zealanders so much better at rugby than Australians? I’ve come up with a few factors that explain the discrepancy.

Firstly, there is culture. When a baby is born in New Zealand, he or she is given a rugby ball to play with in the crib, granting them a huge headstart over the average Australian child, who is generally not allowed to handle a rugby ball until they hit puberty or are signed to an NRL club, whichever comes first.

The moment Kiwi children begin to walk, they are put to work on a scrum machine. Grades K-12 in New Zealand schools devote up to 80% of class time to video reviews of All Black victories. It makes a difference.

Secondly, there is conditioning. New Zealand is a rugged and challenging landscape, full of towering mountains and harsh terrain. Having to negotiate those lofty peaks and rocky, uneven ground all the time gives New Zealanders naturally powerful calves and thighs, which are of great benefit on the rugby field. By contrast, Australia is flat and full of escalators, allowing our bodies to become flabby and weak through under-use. We are no match for the mountain-toned frames of the Kiwis.

 (Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

Thirdly, there is weather. Australia is famous for its beautiful weather, which tends to make us relaxed and peaceable, with warm feelings in our hearts for our fellow humans. New Zealand’s weather, on the other hand, is famously awful: wet, freezing and miserable. This means New Zealanders are not only able to deal with difficult on-field conditions more easily, it also makes them more irritable and liable to deep-seated hatred of the world and all its inhabitants. Bitter and furious due to lives lived in a constant state of damp, their ability to unleash that fury against opponents is legendary.

Fourthly, there is boredom. There is nothing to do in New Zealand except play rugby, so they do it all the time. Conversely, the wide variety of entertainment and recreational options available to Australians is crippling our rugby stocks.

Fifthly, there is revenge. The list of outrages committed by Australia against New Zealand is long – the misappropriation of pavlova, taking Russell Crowe, refusing to take Paul Henry, etc – and all New Zealanders are driven by an inner fire of vengeance that burns brightly and impels them to inflict as much pain on us as possible as payback.

And sixthly, there is size. New Zealanders are big and scary and I am terrified of them.

So what can Australian rugby do about this? Teaming with the federal government to institute programmes of child indoctrination, build artifical mountains across the nation, and seed the clouds with silver iodide to provide constant rain would be a good start, but there are some things that can’t be fixed.

It could be we will never be as good at rugby as New Zealanders. Some say that we were once, in a long-forgotten age that old-timers call “the Nineties” – although even then, if you go by the legends, everyone kind of felt that it was against nature.

The true solution may simply be that we need to stop playing rugby against New Zealanders, for the sake of our own national self-esteem. Hopefully, as Rugby Australia reviews its past missteps and embarks on reform, it will give due consideration to cutting all ties with New Zealand and instead organising a regular annual schedule of games against Canada.

Otherwise, I guess, we could always pull the Russell Crowe routine on the All Blacks?

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