By Peter FitzSimons, Sydney Morning Herald
There are losses, there are bad losses, there are disgraceful losses, there are disgraceful losses including craven collapses and then … there is the Waratahs’ 28-12 loss to the Brumbies at the Sydney Football Stadium last Saturday night. I was there, watched it closely from first to last, and still can’t quite get over just how appalling, how dispiriting, how gut-wrenchingly awful the whole thing was.
So bring it in tight you blokes, and listen up.
Two terrific second-half Henry Speight tries allowed the Brumbies to cruise to a 28-12 victory over the Waratahs.
You get, yes, that rugby is in a fight for its life right now? You get that whereas 10 years ago, the Waratahs had 35,000 turning up for home games, you’re down to 15,000 and falling? You get that beyond mere disappointment at the result, for those of us who love the game, and the Waratahs jersey, there was stupefaction at the way you lost?
In that case, you’ll understand the key question: how COULD you play like that?
To begin with, where was the joy in playing? Where was the effervescence, the sheer exhilaration of running out in front of your home crowd, to take on the Brumbies in a singularly important match? Did one of you crack it for a smile in the warm-up, in the match, after a good tackle, after a great movement? If so, I didn’t see it. It was a totally joyless performance on your part, begetting an entirely joyless result.
Where was the grit, the gumption, the guts? How could a weakened Brumbies side put nigh on 30 points on you, when they are playing away from home against what is meant to the strongest, best resourced side in the country?
What is wrong with you?
You, Will Skelton, weren’t any worse than the rest of them, and if I single you out it is because you used to be so outstanding and so we have something to compare it to. But have a look at your first performances for the Tahs, and compare it to Saturday night.
Mate, when you burst on the rep rugby scene in 2013, you did just that – you BURST on it! You hit the line a dozen times a match with your 140-kilogram frame, and either broke right through, or broke two blokes in the attempt. Saturday night how many times did you get it? Half a dozen? Each time, flat-footed, you trotted a few metres and then fell under a tide of Brumbies. What gives? How can that be the same bloke, particularly when you’ve apparently been playing so well in Britain?
Ditto you, Israel Folau. When you turned up at the Waratahs, after the unsuccessful attempt at AFL, you were a revelation, a man among boys. Every time you got the ball, you were an excitement machine, a joy to watch. Not Saturday night. You were still good, but not a shadow of the player you were. You used to be The Man, the one people turn up in droves just to see. What is going on?
At least, however, Skelton and Folau were visibly trying to do stuff. The rest of you, I’m afraid – with the notable exception of hooker Tolu Latu, who had a real go – just sort of blended into a light blue blancmange.
Where was the gritty resolution to go down fighting to embrace the old notion that if you can’t beat them, at least take a piece of them home with you to show your mother? I watched closely, and could see not even a hint of urgency, to get back to the 50 metre line, to give it one last go, to score one last try, to make some freaking IMPACT, to make the Brumbies at least remember you on Sunday morning!
Yes, you are damn right this is a laundry list of complaints, which will likely not sit well with you.
But give me credit for one thing. At least I care. The fact that 20,000 people have disappeared in recent years from watching the matches, matched by an equally alarming percentage of fall in ratings, says that large swathe of the once largish rugby community has stopped caring entirely.
And there is only one way to bring them back. You bastards have to either start winning, or at least be admirable in the way you try to.
Our only hope must be that Saturday night was rock-bottom, that you can start to salvage the season from here. By all means get angry at this unfair column, vow to bloody well show all your critics. But do something!
Peter FitzSimons is managed by The Fordham Company.