2007 in review

December 19, 2007 - 1:11PM

If Robbie Deans took a moment to reflect on the tumultuous past 12 months in Australian rugby, the Kiwi super-coach could be forgiven for thinking: "What the hell have I got myself into!"

Deans' appointment as the first foreigner to coach the Wallabies ends the rockiest of years where the exceptional has been the norm.

Indeed, if there was no such thing as bad publicity, the Australian Rugby Union would be celebrating a whale of a 2007.

Back page headlines and riveting, often bizarre, stories have been a dime a dozen.

But, unfortunately for the game they say is played in heaven, the hellish litany of negatives have been terribly damaging on several fronts and the code has been the biggest victim.

From challenging the AFL as the country's most supported football code after hosting the 2003 World Cup, ARU supremo John O'Neill has conceded rugby is now languishing at No.4 behind league and soccer.

The dramas haven't been limited to the field of play where performances at Test and Super 14 level were uninspiring -- the Wallabies endured their worst World Cup result losing to England in the quarter-finals and none of Australia's Super 14 teams made the play-offs.

In fact, skirmishes off-field have almost seen on-field woes take a backseat.

From bloody boardroom battles to leading coaches at war, sponsor Bundaberg Rum accusing the ARU chairman of excessive drinking and Western Force players tackling quokkas; the appointment of a Kiwi coach has been positively ho-hum in comparison.

And that's not forgetting the game's biggest star, Lote Tuqiri, pushing one NSW teammate after a game and orchestrating a selector to slag off another on speaker phone.

Welcome to the wacky world of Australian rugby where wonders never cease.

Deans will have his work cut out to get the focus back on track to rugby matters let alone leading the Wallabies back up from an unpalatable No.5 in the world.

They were No.2 when dazed skipper Stirling Mortlock inspired Australia to a stirring 20-15 comeback win over the All Blacks at the MCG in June - the year's undoubted highlight.

Deans has wisely already laid down the law to current and prospective Test players on getting the job.

Tuqiri, the public face of the code's troubles, would surely have been listening.

The dual international epitomised a forgettable Super 14 from an Australian perspective where crowds and rating dropped as he battled a try-drought during a much-publicised re-signing saga.

While NZ sides still won and played entertaining rugby without their "cotton-wooled" All Blacks and South Africa wildly celebrated a Bulls-Sharks final, the Aussies struggled for victories and tries.

The year was less than a week old when Tuqiri and three fellow Wallabies were sent home early from a Canberra training camp as punishment for failing to meet pre-set fitness levels.

It was a particularly bad look for a winger involved in a protracted contract battle.

After two knock backs to ARU offers and Russell Crowe's NRL club Souths throwing the kitchen sink at him, Tuqiri finally accepted a reported $6 million contract.

The pressure seemed to take its toll when he shoved Sam Norton-Knight following a brain explosion by the utility back at the end of a draw with the Force.

At the same time, a row between Connolly and his Wallabies predecessor Eddie Jones had caused a major divide in the highly-political code.

Jones, coaching Queensland, was incensed he was blamed for a season-ending knee injury to Wallabies dynamo Chris Latham and both accused the other of undermining them.

After four months of tension Jones eventually quit the Reds, who he took to the wooden spoon.

On route to linking with Saracens in London, he became an assistant to Springbok coach Jake White and helped South Africa claim the World Cup.

Criticised at the time by O'Neill, the abrasive Jones typically took little time to fire back, calling the administrator a "hypocrite" for his successful courting of failed All Blacks coaching candidate Deans.

This after Jones was one of many to back O'Neill to grab the reins off Gary Flowers, who sacked him as Test coach at the end of 2005.

O'Neill swiftly made changes, installing Pat Howard as high-performance director and perennial lieutenant Matt Carroll as his 2IC among others, and more are to come.

One is set to be the eight-team Australian Rugby Championship which enjoyed a successful debut in terms of entertainment but is likely to be streamlined due to high costs.

Fullback Latham, the best player of 2006, did return as Australia lost its rematch to NZ in Auckland to miss out on the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations for another year.

He quickly regained his signature form to be one of the Wallabies stars at the World Cup but it was up front where Connolly's men were undone with the rugged English pack dominating the scrum and breakdown for a major upset and more negative headlines.

Australia's quarter-final loss to England also signalled the end of two great international careers, with former captain George Gregan and his long-time halves partner Stephen Larkham bowing out, Gregan as the world most capped rugby player with 139 Tests.



Position Start of 2007/End of 2007
ARU chief executive- Gary Flowers/John O'Neill
Wallabies coach- John Connolly/Robbie Deans
High-performance manager- Pat Wilson/Pat Howard


Played 12: Won 9; Lost 3


Played 5: Won 4; Lost 1
Finish: Quarter-finalists Lost 12-10 to England in Marseille, October 6


Played 4: Won 2; Lost 2
Finish: Second to New Zealand
Highlight: 20-15 win over NZ at MCG, June 30


Brumbies - Fifth (9 wins, 4 losses)
Western Force - Seventh (6-6, 1 draw)
NSW Waratahs - 13th (3-9-1)
Queensland Reds - Last (2-11)