Wal­la­bies given sharp wake-up call

Many Aus­tralians re­main ap­a­thetic to team de­spite reach­ing fi­nal, dis­cov­ers Jonathan Pearl­man

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 -

When his Aus­tralian coun­try­men emerge at Twick­en­ham to try to de­feat the All Blacks and win rugby’s great­est prize, Syd­ney res­i­dent Chase Wil­liams plans to be fast asleep.

Like most Aus­tralians, Wil­liams, 31, a project man­ager, has not watched any of the Wal­la­bies’ games dur­ing this cham­pi­onship – and he says he is not about to start.

“The only thing I’ll be get­ting up for is if my [eight-month-old] son is scream­ing,” he said. Wil­liams’s re­sponse was a fairly stan­dard one on the streets of Syd­ney in the lead-up to to­day’s fi­nal, which will be broad­cast live at the some­what un­ap­peal­ing lo­cal time of 3am to­mor­row.

Dur­ing a work break at Syd­ney’s Bondi beach, Steven Grif­fith, 28, a con­struc­tion fore­man, said he had watched no games dur­ing the cham­pi­onship and the only peo­ple he knew who planned to watch the fi­nal were New Zealan­ders. Asked which sports – if not rugby – he would con­sider wak­ing up for, Grif­fith said: “Pretty much ev­ery other sport.”

In Aus­tralia, rugby union ranks far be­hind Aus­tralian rules foot­ball and rugby league in pop­u­lar­ity and the World Cup has strug­gled to seize the na­tion’s at­ten­tion. The big­gest draw­back has been the time zone but the cham­pi­onship has also been sand­wiched be­tween the do­mes­tic foot­ball fi­nals sea­sons and the run­ning of the an­nual Mel­bourne Cup horse race.

Ger­ard Whate­ley, an ABC tele­vi­sion sports com­men­ta­tor, said the Wal­la­bies used to be the team who the na­tion ral­lied be­hind on the in­ter­na­tional stage but this role has in­creas­ingly been usurped by the Soc­ceroos, the Aus­tralian foot­ball team.

“Rugby is not the heart­land sport of many peo­ple here,” he said. “You are born into AFL [Aus­tralian rules foot­ball] or rugby league, and a size­able part of the pop­u­la­tion has a nat­u­ral af­fil­i­a­tion for the world game [foot­ball].”

How­ever, in­ter­est in the cham­pi­onship has be­gun to grow in Aus­tralia in the past two weeks, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the Wal­la­bies’ tightly-fought 35-34 quar­ter-fi­nal win against Scot­land. “The cam­paign has ben­e­fited from a thrilling quar­ter-fi­nal – not a lot of peo­ple saw it, but ev­ery­body heard about it in the af­ter­math,” Whate­ley said.

“It has helped that the fi­nal is against the All Blacks – there is that sense of dread be­cause we don’t usu­ally beat New Zealand.”

At­tempts to pro­mote the cham­pi­onship in Aus­tralia may also have been ham­pered by the lack of me­dia ac­cred­i­ta­tion for the event for re­porters from News Cor­po­ra­tion and Fair­fax Me­dia, Aus­tralia’s main print news or­gan­i­sa­tions. The out­lets re­fused to ap­ply for ac­cred­i­ta­tion be­cause of the strict pub­li­ca­tion rules im­posed by World Rugby, the gov­ern­ing body, cit­ing lim­its on use of video footage.

“We have re­porters there who have not been go­ing to sta­di­ums – they have been stak­ing out ho­tels and go­ing to train­ings,” Richard Hinds, a sports colum­nist for Syd­ney’s Daily Tele­graph, said.

“The Wal­la­bies have a good pub­lic re­la­tions team who have made sure the re­porters are well fed with ac­cess to the play­ers, so I don’t think it [the ac­cred­i­ta­tion dis­pute] has af­fected the cov­er­age. Michael Cheika [the Wal­la­bies coach] has quite a fol­low­ing here. He’s a charis­matic fel­low and has sold the team and the tour­na­ment pretty well.”

Rugby was tra­di­tion­ally played and fol­lowed in Aus­tralia mainly by grad­u­ates of pri­vate schools in the east­ern states of New South Wales and Queens­land, while state school stu­dents tended to play rugby league. But the code has sought to broaden its ap­peal and the cur­rent team, who in­clude a di­verse mix of back­grounds and sev­eral play­ers from Pa­cific is­lands, has been la­belled “the work­ing-class Wal­la­bies”.

Clutch­ing his surf­board on Syd­ney’s Bondi beach, Bill Nor­man, a 70-year-old re­tiree who played rugby at school, was one of the few avid watch­ers sur­veyed in

The Daily Tele­graph’s straw poll. “I think peo­ple are start­ing to take in­ter­est. Mainly be­cause Aus­tralians tend to like watch­ing win­ning teams,” he said.

Hard sell: Syd­ney’s Opera House did its bit for the Wal­la­bies but the game Down Un­der is bat­tling for pop­u­lar­ity

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