The rotting corpse of Australian rugby

The Bledisloe Cup means only one thing to Steve Deane - it's feeding time at the zoo.

A lion using its rasp-like tongue to languidly peel the layers off a festering corpse.

That’s what we’re witnessing when we watch a Bledisloe Cup test these days.

Sure, the lion could use its teeth and rip its victim apart any time it wanted but, really, why would it bother?

It’s the king of jungle, and it’s got all the time in the world. Lithe, muscular and capable of ferocious outbursts of athleticism, the lion analogy for the All Blacks is obvious enough.

The only question about the Wallabies is which type of corpse best represents them? Insignificant road kill is a tempting metaphor. But, hell, Australia is a two-time world champion in rugby. These guys used to be something.

They’re more like a proud old bull water buffalo, that, having neared the end of its journey, collapsed under its own weight. And now it sits there, rotting in the sun, easy prey for not only lions, but the jackals and hyenas as well (that’s you, Scotland and Argentina).

The grim reality is that the festering corpse that is Australian rugby isn’t going to miraculously spring to life any time soon.

The Wallabies don’t need a new coach. They need a voodoo priest; one capable of raising the dead.

Things will get worse before they get even worse. At least that’s what it says in tea leaves that include the recent naming of an Australian schoolboys squad that included not a single boy from a state school, and the country’s most exciting young rugby talent declaring he’d rather be an All Black, thank you very much.

The young talent who declared his interest in the All Blacks, of course, is Newcastle Knights and Queensland State of Origin phenomenon Kalyn Ponga. The 20-year-old was born in Port Headland, Western Australia, but is of Māori descent. He’s not the first Australian league player to declare an interest in rugby union or even the All Blacks but, in Ponga’s case, this is highly unlikely to be a negotiating ploy to engineer a better contract. For starters, the Knights are already paying him a king’s ransom.

More relevantly – and more worrying for both Australia rugby codes – is that when Ponga last came to Auckland with the Knights, a group of around 60 family members attended the match at Mt Smart Stadium. After the match, Ponga went off with his whānau and stayed on a marae.

“It doesn’t matter where they are born,” a senior figure in Māoridom told this column. “This is always home.”

Ponga, then, might well follow Brad Thorn’s lead and take his talents back to Aotearoa. If he does, it will be just another valve closing on the pipeline of talent from league to union that propped up the Wallabies for well over a decade.

Where have you gone Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri? A nation turns its cloudy, cataract-filled eyes to you.

That well has run dry, leaving the Wallabies to pick from a talent base that almost exclusively revolves around a handful of private schools, and conscripted Pacific Islanders.

Given those precarious circumstances, one could be forgiven for expecting Australian rugby to treat its very few genuine world-class players as a protected species. Instead, bafflingly, it fails to nurture them, banishing the likes of James O’Connor to a life earning huge money while partying it up in France, and treating Quade Cooper like a leper.

And so, unendurably burdened by the weight of all this, the once proud buffalo falls to its knees.

An unforgiving fixture list pits it in a lopsided battle against the great lion every year and, layer by layer, the corpse is stripped to the bone. Until, eventually, there is nothing left to see.

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