A Most Preposterous Notion

Filed in Other by on December 10, 2010

It was Saturday morning and I was sitting at the bar of the Richmond Hill Larder sipping my fourth breakfast martini- a fine beverage of vodka, blood orange and Baghdad marmalade that would anger the martini purists but is, nevertheless, a sunny drink and a perfect way to get your buzz back on in the early hours before lunch- and indulging in a game of Mornington Crescent with a regular named Oscar, originally of Hammersmith, while the barman looked on with interest behind his copy of The Weekend Australian.

We were playing the Phil Tufnell Variation, a deviation on the original Walmington-on-Sea Regulations, where moves to the left are considered orthodox while moves to the right are considered uncivilised and require the player to remove his or her right shoe immediately and offer the closest non-player a joint with his or her right hand. Anything thrown at the offending player in this time must be dropped. Any trip through Bournemouth requires the offending player to leave his wife and/or girlfriend. No mainline crossovers. Bonuses given for maritime or air travel. Greenwich Mean Time. Regular Sunday morning. The original Walmington-on-Sea Regulations were noted in N.F Stovold’s Mornington Crescent: Rules and Origins, currently out-of-print. Rules for the Phil Tufnell Variation can be found in the rare reprint of the anonymously written A Tome for the Devoted: Strategy and Tactics for Mornington Crescent and its Variations.

I had just pulled the seminal Pistol Whip Doubleback Manoeuvre to take me to Great Portland Street without penalty, made famous by the legendary Pete “Shooter” McHugh, and was on the verge of reaching Mornington Crescent when the amiable barkeep leaned across: “You may want to see this Mr. Tedeschi.”

Well, indeed.

He handed me the sports section and poured me martini number five and looked anxiously as my brow furrowed in a combination of contempt and bemusement. He was aware of my erratic behaviour and was seemingly on edge, ready to settle any ugly scene that may develop before bridges were burned and people were asked to leave.

I scanned the article and then read it again. It was a strange piece suggesting the possibility of a rugby league v rugby union/Kangaroos v Wallabies match; that it was in the works to be played under hybrid rules in Sydney next year. The article proclaimed what a success such a contest would be, how embraced it would be by the Sydney sports-going public, how interesting the notion of “the best playing the best” would be, how it would be a beneficial exercise for all parties involved.

I slammed the paper down and started jabbering incoherently to a woman who had just taken a seat at the bar while waiting for a table to open up. “You can’t trust newspapermen these days” I said, as she backed away, slightly alarmed that her pleasant breakfast had taken such a strange turn. “They are cheap pimps peddling lies and bollocks, modern day carnies trying to rip the last dollar from your grasp.”

She clasped her handbag a little closer to her side and clawing for her last remnants of composure, excused herself under the pretence of needing to use the bathroom. Oscar had taken the opportunity to escape the bill and was nowhere to be seen. The barkeep kept a firm eye on me, sensing my contempt at the article he had just shown me.

The simple fact that a newspaper would seemingly promote such a monstrosity angered me. Their refusal to properly analyse why a match will never take place was even more infuriating.

The whole idea of the Kangaroos taking on the Wallabies is preposterous.

For starters, the spectacle would be worthy of gouging your own eyeballs out, a clusterfuck of stupidity and malaise that would interest only perverts, ambulance chasers and News Limited employees. The match would be played under rules that nobody would understand, particularly if they slanted towards union. The players, the coaches, the officials, the spectators…nobody would have a clue what was going on. If the match was not played under hybrid rules and rather, was played under either league or union rules, the purpose of the match would be exactly nought.

It defies belief that anybody could in the least bit be interested.

One would expect that the National Rugby League and the Australian Rugby Union certainly wouldn’t want a bar of it. Aside from the possibility, and that word should be heavily emphasised, of some short-term coin, there is very little to be gleaned from the staging of a match between the Kangaroos and the Wallabies.

The ARU, in particular, has the most to lose from a match that would provide very little benefit. It is generally accepted, at least by those who understand football, that rugby league players are both superior athletes and superior footballers. If a “combined” team was named, it is doubtful a single Wallaby would make the team, particularly if scrimmaging wasn’t regarded as important. In terms of backs, Matt Giteau would be the only Wallaby who would even be considered and it is doubtful that he could knock anyone of the Kangaroos out of the backline. In terms of forwards, rugby front rowers are as athletic as sumo wrestlers and not in the same stratosphere as league props and hookers while the depth of backrowers in Australian rugby league would see even the likes of George Smith miss out.

The clear disparity in skill and athleticism would and should be a major concern for the ARU. An embarrassing defeat would only further cement rugby union as the inferior code in the eyes of the general populace. The ARU has already failed in its attempts to establish a nationwide club competition that could attract any interest. The Super 14 competition is regarded as a niche competition in Australia that has no free-to-air coverage and a very small fanbase. The only level of rugby that even touches on popular interest is international rugby and that has been in severe decline for the better part of the last decacde.

If the Wallabies were to be whipped- and they would be beaten dreadfully in any game that wasn’t pure rugby- it would further erode the already diminishing support for the code in Australia. Few outside of the rugby old boy network would pay to watch a convoluted sport that was played by objectively inferior athletes.

The damage a hybrid match could do to the reputation of rugby union in Australia is immense.

The smartest move Australian rugby has ever made was to immediately come out and reject the idea of a match between the Wallabies and the Kangaroos. John O’Neill is a smart man, even if a little misguided, and realises that the downside for rugby is far greater than anything that can be gained.

The NRL also run a number of risks with little reward if they were to proceed with the match. Aside from the possibility of injury to a number of league’s top drawcards, the NRL would also be showcasing their stars on a pseudo-union stage which would only lead to the ARU further opening their chequebook to sign the cream of rugby league talent. Partaking in such a game would also go some way to legitimising rugby union as a major sport in Australia, placing the game in the same universe as rugby league.

The suggestion that there is even a possibility that the game could be played fails to account for the bitter history and bad blood that exists between the two sports. Rugby league was founded on the hypocrisy and snobbery of rugby union. This is a century long feud and a single game of a totally foreign sport will do nothing to end it Both the NRL and the ARU are aware of this and one would hope they both write the prospect of this match-up off as nothing more than a cheap ploy to sell newspapers.

From the perspective of the NRL and the ARU, the risks certainly outweigh any potential rewards. From the perspective of the fan, the match is essentially meaningless, consigning the contest to nothing more than exhibition status, on par with trial games and testimonial matches. Maybe Fatty will take another one handed catch?

Surely the newspapermen keeping this story alive are aware of this. If they aren’t, they are fools of the highest order. If they are, they are treating us all like a bunch of intellectually deficient jokers.

This is the time of year we should all be concentrating on nobler pursuits such as golf wagering and late breakfasts and Mornington Crescent. Not rancid football writers promoting some game that will never take place. The fact that we are fed this drivel is an indictment on the Australian newspaper industry and a blight on the sporting press.

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