THE biggest names in Australia rugby have backed the establishment of an independent academy to make the Wallabies great again.
A who’s who of the Wallabies’ 1990s golden era, including two-time World Cup winners John Eales and Phil Kearns and fellow greats Nick Farr-Jones and captains George Gregan and Michael Lynagh, were at Friday’s launch of the International Rugby Academy of Australia (IRAA).
A spin-off of the International Rugby Academy of New Zealand which former All Blacks captain Murray Mexted had created 20 years ago, it’s hoped Australia’s version will revive the game similarly down under like it did across the Tasman.
With Mexted still calling the shots, the first IRAA courses for elite young Australian players and coaches will commence in January, giving aspirants rare one-on-one access to Eales, Farr-Jones, Gregan, Kearns and a raft of other World Cup winners like Matt Burke and Rod Kafer.
“It’s very easy to sit back and criticise so this is about trying to do something,” Lynagh told AAP.
The Wallabies’ 1991 World Cup-winning vice-captain to Farr-Jones, Lynagh flew all the way from London to be at the launch as the IRAA’s official patron.
“I do follow Australian rugby from the UK and I read all the papers so I do know what’s going on to a certain extent so, when something positive like this comes along, I tend to try and support them,” he said.
“It’s got all the approvals and we’ve got to integrate them with the systems that are there at the moment.”
Lynagh hopes the Wallabies dropping to seventh in the rankings after their World Cup quarter-final loss to England is as low as it gets for Australian rugby.
But he said times had changed since the Wallabies were on top of the world and the rapid emergence of other sporting alternatives for children – and dreaded screens – made it challenging for rugby.
“Our ability to identify and nurture talent was quite strong and it’s still there in a certain respect, but maybe there’s more competition from other sports,” he said.
“In NSW and Queensland, it used to be just rugby league that had the attention of young kids coming through in those states.
“But now, we have soccer and AFL poaching as well.
“Plus there’s all these distractions for kids. They’ve got sport plus they’ve got the beach plus they’ve got the internet to get on and all that sort of stuff.
“So we’re probably having less kids playing the game, which is not a good thing, and that always reflects (on performance) when it goes through to clubs and into the states and country.
“So if we can get kids enthusiastic and playing the game again, and different versions of the game at an earlier age, then terrific.”