A history of the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup: part I

时间:2019-11-16  作者:淳于丁喘  来源:nb88新博官方网站  浏览:102次  评论:80条

It was all looking so good. For a brief moment in the early 2000s, rugby was arguably Australia’s pre-eminent national winter sport. The Wallabies were world champions and held all the major trophies for which they were eligible to compete; even the All Blacks, the most brutal and efficient rugby machine in the sport’s history, were in their pocket.

Competition from the rival football codes was weak: rugby league had lost its way through the post-Super League doldrums, Australian rules football was in the final moments of a reluctant farewell to its vestigial provincialism, and association football was still called “soccer”, a sport so far off the map its administrators had dreamt up a team called Parramatta Power and convinced themselves this would be a good idea. Rugby had left Saturday afternoon stadiums like Ballymore and Concord behind, shed the junky baggage of its amateur past and was making confident strides into the professional era.

The Australia Rugby Union jersey in 2001. Photograph: Dean Purcell/Getty Images

In late 2000, when the Wallabies travelled to France, sports newspaper L’Equipe described the team’s overriding quality as “serenity”, and developments off the field were equally even-tempered. As Australia prepared to host the 2003 , the Australian Rugby Union and its CEO John O’Neill – a man who brought the moon-like calm and sense of padded prosperity of a parent patrolling the sidelines at a GPS rugby match to a once-ruly sport – could count a thriving multi-national provincial competition, a record of unprecedented success for the Wallabies, and a rising rugby consciousness throughout the country among their major achievements.

The Vodafone-era Wallabies jersey – southern crossed, blue-sleeved, a little too baggy in the turn-of-the-century fashion – had become the default uniform of young Australian backpackers all over the world; its prevalence through the crowd made Pat Rafter’s epic Wimbledon final against Goran Ivanisevic as much an advertisement for Australian rugby as tennis.

Today, with the AFL rampant and the Socceroos firmly implanted as the country’s first national non-cricket love, the temptation is to look at the state of rugby in Australia – failure at the last two World Cups, ritual canings by the All Blacks, all that collective brain energy wasted on discussions over what to do with Quade Cooper – and wonder: what happened?

The better story is to think about how the sport managed to vault itself to such a position of prominence in the first place, because for much of its existence, Australian rugby has operated under a cloud of seemingly imminent crisis. Developments both on and off the field reflect this equally, the game lurching from decade to decade between cavalier, attacking backline play and turgid, grubby defensiveness, elitism and populism, high-minded amateurism and commercial oblivion.

Throughout, there have been two constant threats to the existence of the sport in Australia: New Zealand, a rugby culture so strong it has at times over the past century made the idea of international competition seem virtually moot; and money, or rugby league, which are really two ways of saying the same thing. Even during its most quietly efficient corporate phases, Australian rugby has at times threatened to degenerate into a squalling babble of state rivalries.

It’s long forgotten now but through the 1920s and 1930s, the sport nearly disappeared from Queensland, now seen as an essential rugby heartland; in the mid-1990s News Limited’s Super League raid brought the very real threat of a mass player exodus to rugby league, a potentially lethal generational injury; Greg Smith’s calamitous appointment as Wallabies coach in 1996 was a farce born of pointless factionalism. The miracle is that rugby has managed to thrive under these pressures for so long, delivering some of the country’s best sporting moments in the process: unquestionably, it is the great survivor of Australia’s major team sports, a force of at times astonishing regeneration and reinvention.

In the standards of its play and administration, not to say its popularity throughout the country, rugby in Australia has also always been the most volatile of the football codes: each success has promised to deliver the sport to some fresh flirtation with its own destruction. And nothing illustrates this better than the history of the Wallabies at the World Cup, a story in which glory and misery, wizardry and meek surrender, the razzamatazz of the Campese goosestep and the collapsed pie of the 2007-vintage forward pack, share top billing.

A line out is thrown as Australia play Devon in the first match of the 1908 Australian Rugby Union tour. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

When Bob Dwyer was appointed Wallabies coach in 1982, he inherited a team bereft of inspiration. David Brockhoff had coached the team through much of the 1970s, encouraging his players to turn away from a proud tradition of daredevil ball-handling in favour of pure on-field violence. His successor, Bob Templeton, was a safety-first bore who ran the team according to a “Six P” principle, which sounded like the type of line borrowed from a Year 8 maths teacher stuck for material: “Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance”.

Dwyer, with his bristling moustache and a wardrobe that leaned heavily on Inspector Clouseau trenchcoats, hardly struck observers as the type of man to overhaul Australian rugby. But his long association with Randwick, who he had coached to three successive championship wins in the Sydney club competition by the time he was appointed to lead the Wallabies, placed him as a firm apostle of the type of running, risk-taking, chip-and-chase rugby of which Australia fancied itself the torchbearer.

Things had not always been that way for Dwyer, or indeed for Australian rugby. Paddy Moran, the maudlin, brooding captain of the Wallabies on their first overseas tour, in 1908, described the domestic game as “a form of local warfare”, and the British press labelled the Australians participating in that tour, whose kicking game focused almost exclusively on opposition players’ heads, as “the foulest set of players imaginable”. When Dwyer was playing for Randwick in the 1960s, standards of play throughout Australia’s major clubs appeared to have progressed little from the organised thuggery of the sport’s early years.

It was Dwyer’s meetings, and confrontations, with a man named Cyril Towers while playing for Randwick that set him and the Wallabies on their course of modern prosperity. Towers was the high priest of running rugby in Australia: as a player, he had toured the UK with the NSW Waratahs in 1928-29 – the Waratahs toured in lieu of the national side as Queensland’s club culture had virtually vanished in the face of the rise of rugby league – and helped develop many of the ideas about attacking backline play that have since become foundational to how Australian rugby perceives itself.

Towers’s strategy revolved around a flat backline, quick hands, straight running, and constant support; this saw the Waratahs prosper on their 1928-29 tour and reverse much of the ill feeling generated towards Australian rugby in the UK by earlier visiting sides. By the second half of the 20th century, Towers’s ideas had fallen out of fashion: most clubs, along with the national side, set their backlines deep. As a coach, Dwyer adapted the Towers approach for modern times at Randwick, and carried it with him into the Wallabies camp. After the muddy torpor and crazed aggression of the Brockhoff and Templeton years – in photos from that era, players look a lot like dust-caked hipsters at Burning Man might look today, minus the aviation goggles – the approach proved a revelation.

Bob Dwyer, Bob Templeton and David Brockhoff – three former coaches of Australia’s rugby union team. Photograph: Getty Images

It also proved highly risky. Dwyer’s commitment to attack at all costs involved, inevitably, neglect of the other central element of the game of rugby – defence – and he only lasted in the job two seasons. But in retrospect, the first Dwyer administration (a second stint at the top job was to follow, with much more celebrated results) proved a highly profitable mistake: it revived the Wallabies’ lust for the running game, and established Australia as the leading proponent for all that was good about a game that pimped itself as the thing to do in heaven. It also, critically, introduced Australia to its two singular attacking rugby talents of the 1980s.

By the time Alan Jones led the Wallabies to the inaugural World Cup, in 1987, Mark Ella had long retired. Much has been written about Ella – the eery sense of anticipation, those erotically soft hands – but what impressed most was his utter lack of visible anxiety while on the field. Perched off to the side of the scrum ready to receive the ball, at whatever height or speed, from his halfback, Ella played as if totally unaware of all the commotion around him; he danced through games like no one was watching. Where other five-eighths were twitchy and frenetic, he seemed eternally bemused; there was a languor, almost a laziness, in the brevity of his movements.

David Campese was his spirit twin, but while Ella deceived with austerity of action, Campese bewildered his opponents through superabundance: the can-canning legs, the juggling of the ball from arm to arm, the dummies and changes of pace, the balls over the shoulder and round the waist. Campese killed with action; Ella killed with quiet. And even though the former Matraville High star stayed true to his pledge to retire in 1984, by the time he turned 25, Ella’s influence over the game reverberated well into the 1990s. In the stylistic contrast he and Campese elaborated over their three seasons together, from 1982 to 1984, the template for Australia’s backline philosophy – mixing equal parts equanimity and ingenuity – was set for the decades to follow.

Mark Ella breaks away to score a try during the Wales v Australia international at Cardiff Arms Park on 24 November, 1984. Australia won the match 28-9. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty Images

In the lead-up to the 1987 tournament, that philosophy, coupled with Jones’s rousing leadership, brought famous, unprecedented successes: the Grand Slam of 1984 attracted legions of fresh fans to a sport that had to that point been a relatively niche concern, and in 1986 the Wallabies – previously perceived as a unit given over exclusively to the delights of running with the ball in hand – discovered new reserves of defensive resilience as they repelled a bulldozing All Blacks backline to claim the Bledisloe Cup. These were major achievements, the closing of the gap to the All Blacks especially.

In 1884, at a time when sport in Australia was in flux and it remained unclear which of the major football codes would come to dominate the country – some might say that game has yet to play out – the Sydney Morning Herald editorialised: “Rugby isn’t our game; we’ll always court defeat if we play the New Zealanders.” That was true for much of the 20th century. The Bledisloe Cup was so lopsided as a contest that most Australians had little idea of its existence; New Zealand’s rugby administrators kept the trophy itself locked away in a cupboard right into the 1970s, secure in the knowledge it would never be taken from them. By the mid-1980s, things were suddenly, thrillingly competitive: for the first time, the Wallabies were real contenders.

Jones was a polarising, theatrical figure: look back at the videos of him coaching the Wallabies today and it’s hard to figure out whether the footage is authentic or a Chris Lilley mockumentary. He had worked as an English teacher at the King’s School in Parramatta through the 1970s and there was much about his pre-match motivational style – with its invocation of poets and war heroes – that was hammily pedagogic.

His man management techniques also veered to the eccentric. Before the Grand Slam tour, Jones arranged for the Wallabies to have professional singing lessons, a move which did not go down well with some of the unreconstructed, and possibly unmusical, types in the forward pack like Queensland prop Stan Pilecki; on the tour of New Zealand in 1986, Jones entertained the squad at a hotel in Westport one night with a blackface rendition of Al Jolson’s “Mammy”. Nothing got the Aussie boys fired up in the mid-80s, it seems, like a good bit of old-fashioned racism. But Jones was also a stern disciplinarian, and he understood the importance of anchoring his outside backs’ exuberance with an iron forward pack.

The Wallabies marched into the inaugural World Cup oozing confidence, and their billing as joint favourites with New Zealand was more than justified. Passage through the early rounds, including a battling win over England, was brisk, and the Wallabies comfortably disposed of the Irish in the quarter-final, vindicating in part the reluctance of the northern hemisphere nations to sanction a global tournament which ran the risk of providing a demonstration of comfortable southern hemisphere superiority. But then came Concord. Then came France. And then came agony.

The rugby of that era looked different to the rugby of today. Backs ran in a flat line close to each other, delivering the ball in flat, short, league-style passes, phase-play was shorter, rucks were both less frequent and less intense, and there were few of the zany, booming cutout torpedoes we’ve become accustomed to seeing out of the breakdown today.

But even by the standards of the day the final, desperate move by the Tricolores’ backline during that semi-final against the Wallabies was an agonisingly slow, ramshackle, clumsy affair, the ball looping out to the wing across a line of mud-caked Frenchmen until it dropped into the hands of Serge Blanco, who charged towards the tryline and celebrated with something approaching papal fervour.

Concord Oval, in a sense, provided a neat backdrop for the Wallabies’ first taste of the World Cup: they’d aimed as high as the ground’s famously high goalposts, and ended up on Parramatta Road. Within a year, Jones was gone, his schoolmaster pomp worn thin, and the Wallabies had to rebuild.

Serge Blanco scores as France beat Australia 30-24 in the semi-final of the 1987 Rugby World Cup. Photograph: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

Tomorrow: part II - the glory years from 1991 to 2003