Well, what can I say? When news broke on Monday night that six of the boys were being suspended because of a night out in Dublin I was headed to bed. I will freely admit that I got angry and mighty pissed off with what appeared to be, on the face of it, a bloody silly thing for a huge chunk of the squad to do.
Now in the cold hard light of day…….. what am I thinking?
I have read all the reports, or at least most of them, so let’s summarise:
- The team went out to dinner in what appears to be several different groups.
- The majority, seventeen out of thirty-two, apparently went home to bed like all good Wallabies should have done.
- Fifteen of them decided that with a day off the next day they would kick on.
- This scenario allegedly involved ‘inappropriate levels of alcohol’.
- The scenario also allegedly resulted in at least some of the players getting back to their hotel at or around 4:30am.
- How the coach found out is now a matter of speculation, but he did.
So, now for a few questions:
1. Has this happened before?
You bet your arse it has and anyone who claims different, well, might be being a little liberal with the truth.
Peter FitzSimmons wrote a piece for the Sydney Morning Herald wrote a piece saying exactly that.
“In the five minutes I was in the Wallabies, I repeat: I do recall one or two players, occasionally, heading out just days before a Test match. But never the Test players, never the reserves, and never even the reserve-reserves, those who might make their way onto the bench if there was a late injury. Instead, it would only be the dirtiest of the “dirty-dirties,” sneaking out, a player or two who would need the bubonic plague to hit the team-room before they’d be a chance of pulling on the boots.”
I beg to differ here, but do take his point. The six players suspended and two of those given a verbal warning were in the match day 23. WTF were they thinking?
One thing that we can be thankful of is that we did not hear about this through news bulletins mentioning injury (or death) to a player or member of the Dublin public. Other than not being where they were meant to be, when they were meant to be, in a state they were meant to be in, there appears to be no harm. All I can say is, oh to be young again where I can stay out until 4:30 in the morning and not need three days to recover.
2. Should this have happened?
That might take a little longer to answer. There are arguments either way. On Green and Gold Rugby there seems to be plenty of discussion addressing both sides of said arguments.
Should the players be expected to live like monks for the 6 weeks of the tour?
There is plenty of evidence around that consumption of alcohol is not conducive to high levels of physical performance. That would probably explain why I am not the top flight athlete that I could have been. (Cough cough. My story and I am sticking to it. That, and sheer laziness.)
Now this is where the story gets a little interesting. Adam Ashley-Cooper’s mum has come out and said that he, at least, had not been drinking excessively and his punishment was because he was the senior player and he got home late. Fair enough, the boy wouldn’t lie to his mum would he?
So, should the question be – should professional players of international sport, representing their country, be allowed to do whatever they want four days before a major game/event/tournament?
You would hope that since these athletes make a living from performing at their physical peak they should understand what is required to ensure that their body is in the best condition that it possibly can. If they feel they can go out all night mid-week and it is not going to affect their performance, who are we, or anyone else, to tell them that it is not a good idea?
We all need advice at certain times in our life even if that advice is telling us things that we already know, or should know. One would hope that any restrictions put on the players are in their best interests and made in consultation with various coaches, physios, medical personnel, psychologists and scientists. (Hang on, might want to scrub that last one.)
I thought about ‘blaming’ their youth. But of the suspended players, all bar Liam Gill are over the age of 25. I’m sorry, I expect a little more from 25+ year olds. Am I expecting too much?
Can we blame the environment in which they ‘work’? Has professionalism raised the expectations and requirements? You can bet your bottom dollar it has. The stakes have increased. Sport is now a business. There is money involved. So, yes the players should be expected to behave in a manner that means they will be able to perform to their highest possible level when required.
With this business has also come scrutiny. For better or worse these players are watched nearly every single minute of every single day. Why do we expect more from this bunch of boys because they are representing our country then we would any other group of twenty something’s?
During my scratching around I found an article written by Clyde Rathbone earlier this year. In it he has this to say:
“My arrival in Australia 11 years ago coincided with rugby’s transition from Gen X to Gen Y. A decade ago most of my teammates began as amateurs and transitioned into the professional era. Observing the antics of both generations has revealed that the difference between a scandalous headline and blurry memory can be as simple as a camera phone or social media.”
And this is a point. The rest of us have a couple of tough days at the office, we go to the pub, have a blow out, and, as long as we do not break the law, generally don’t end up as a news headline. So why should we expect these guys to be any different?
I would maintain, however, that the stakes are higher now than they were ten years ago. So the ‘stakeholders’, to use business speak, should be forgiven for having high standards to go with said stakes.
3. Are the penalties appropriate?
On the face of it, not knowing the full story, yes. We have to accept that all we have to go on is the ARU press release and the media reports, so we are not in possession of the full facts. However, from what we can glean from the various reports the fifteen players broke the rules. And if they didn’t break the rules then they certainly didn’t up-hold the standards that were expected of them.
I started off saying “Fark yeah! And give them a good flogging while you are at it!” But am I mellowing? Or am I just scared that we are going to lose to Scotland again?
We have all watched the turmoil that has been the 3 Amigos over past years. We now have the situation that one is having an ‘enforced’ break, another has been banished from Australian rugby and the third seems to have turned a corner. I wonder to myself if the leash had been pulled on these three earlier, i.e. 3 years ago, would we be in the situation we are in now? I don’t think so.
I think that Ewen McKenzie has done exactly the right thing. All players are aware of the rules, and because of the punishment this group has received, you would hope that they will all think again before breaking them.
Should we have to set down rules and punishments for a group of mature blokes who are representing our country in the greatest game there is?
The fact that we have a criminal code and a bunch of other laws in general society would suggest that we humans are not very good at doing the right thing without some sort of guidance, restraint and encouragement. And the Wallabies are, after all, human.