A couple of things I heard last week got me thinking about perception and reality. The first came from David Campese, and the second from my mate Craig, a Kiwi living in Sydney.
Campese, the controversial Wallaby-great who still holds the world record for most test tries, came out with a stinging attack on Australian coach Robbie Deans in the week leading up to their clash with England at Twickenham, accusing the New Zealand-born Deans of destroying Australian rugby.
Craig, who had popped back over the Tasman to catch up with friends for a week, got talking one night about Australian’s in general, and the expectations they have of the Wallabies. He reckoned the guys he watched the Bledisloe tests with in Sydney were genuinely surprised each and every time the Wallabies failed to beat the All Blacks, and that they truly believed they were the better side, and hence the best side in the world.
This helped a lot of things click in to place for me, and led me to believe that the Aussies are totally blind to the reality of the current state of Wallaby Rugby. Now, personally I don’t think Robbie Deans is the right man for them moving forward, but, despite all the drama he’s been embroiled in and the horrific streak of injuries his side has endured, he still guided them to second in the inaugural Rugby Championship, a draw against the World Champions and a win at Twickenham.
So if Campo thinks Deans has systematically destroyed Australian rugby, where did he think they were starting from? It’s not as though they were thumping all-in-sundry by 50 points every outing until Deans took the reins. I understand that Campese is upset about the style the Wallabies have adopted as much as the results they’ve achieved, but in all reality they’re still one of the best teams in the world, ranked in the top couple and one of the best four or five on any given day.
Australians in general have always aimed high when it comes to their sporting aspirations, and it’s that die-hard faith in their ability to reach the top that helps them to excel in so many different arenas. But there is a distinct difference between aspiring to be great, and misleading yourself in to believing you’re already there.
From the lads watching alongside Craig in Manly, to legendary figures like David Campese, Australians seem to think they are the world’s leading Rugby nation. I respect the Wallabies, but the fact remains that they’ve only got 13 or 14 decent players (most of whom are backs or openside flankers), a flawed system which fails to recognise, develop and retain talented young players, and huge personalities which are constantly clashing.
I’m all for setting your sights high, but if the Aussies want to delude themselves in to thinking they’re currently the best team in the world, and that they should be beating New Zealand each and every time they face them, they’re in for some long hard years full of disappointment!