Cricket blueprint can revive Australian rugby
IF RUGBY Australia ever needs a reminder about how quickly things can turn around after their year from hell, then they need look no further than Cricket Australia.
No matter how much Israel Folua was paid or who said sorry to who, RA boss Raelene Castle was right on the money when she said the rugby community wanted the Israel Folau saga resolved as soon as possible.
The message from everyone who cares about the game could not have been any clearer - regardless of which side they were on, everyone was sick to death of the whole sorry episode and the damage it was doing to the game.
It was Folau's social media posts that started the whole mess, but prolonging the dispute would only have damaged the game, so credit to RA for reaching a truce.
Now, it's time to move ahead and despite all the problems the sport has faced in 2019, none of them are terminal and a fresh start is just what the game needs to build a bright future.
It's the same ugly scenario that Cricket Australia was facing a little over a year ago in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal, with the team's two best players in the dog house and the board having to be completely gutted.
Now take a look at how cricket's going. Steve Smith and David Warner's stocks have never been higher and the crowds are flooding back, and the same can happen for RA because no single player has ever been bigger than the game.
That's why more than 20,000 Australians flew to Japan this year to watch the Wallabies at the World Cup. Only England attracted more travelling fans, so the support base is still there.
Australia is now firming as the strong favourite to host the 2027 World Cup, which would provide a massive financial and promotional boost to the sport, with Castle working behind the scenes to shore up the votes needed to secure the tournament.
Nothing will bring the fair-weather fans back quicker than a winning team, but there are plenty of encouraging signs there too with a new wave of youngsters coming through and vowing to stick with the code.
The Junior Wallabies made the Under-20s World Cup final this year and two months ago, the Australian under-18s beat New Zealand Schoolboys to capture the Trans-Tasman Shield for the first time in seven years.
Almost all of those players have already been signed up thanks to the creation of a "fighting fund" to stop the sport's best young talent being poached by league, and the defection of Suliasi Vunivalu from the Melbourne Storm is proof that rugby is still a lure for the best in the 13-man code.
Despite the unwarranted complaints that he's not an Aussie, the signing of Kiwi Dave Rennie as the next Wallabies coach has also been hailed as a major coup by everyone who knows him well.
If there's just one thing that needs to be fixed straight away, it's this: ending the flawed obsession with winning the World Cup. As great as winning the World Cup is, it's no substitute for winning on a regular basis.
The constant tinkering with selections and the resting of players during Super Rugby just didn't work and Rennie hopefully understands that better than his predecessor.
And the administrators, who have copped the brunt of the blame for all the woes of this last year, are also about to get a much needed injection of fresh blood with several positions up for grabs at the next annual general meeting in March.
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