Saturday 22 October 2016

Kate Rowan: Lions can expect an Australian soap opera for 2013 Tour

Published 03/01/2013 | 14:41

Quade Cooper
Quade Cooper

AUSTRALIA is home to many global icons - the Sydney Opera House, Bondi Beach, Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, kangaroos, Vegemite and Kylie Minogue.

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But the country is most famous to many for top soap operas such as Home And Away and Neighbours, which helped launch Minogue’s career.

As the Lions Tour of Down Under looks like being the highlight of 2013, it’s time to reflect on the Wallabies’ last 12 months, a season that had more dramatic twists and turns than any soap.

Despite a three-test whitewash over the Welsh in June, this was overshadowed by a loss against the Scots in torrid conditions that were more Inverness than New South Wales, followed by an injury ravaged Rugby Championship and a rather inconsistent end of year tour with a convincing win against the English, just scraping past the Welsh and Italians and a loss against the French.

Add to the ongoing injury crisis that had stellar names such as David Pocock, Will Genia, James O’Connor and James Horwill side lined for crucial periods or all of the test season, the media speculation over the tenure of coach Robbie Deans and Quade Cooper’s claims that the Wallabies’ environment was a toxic one.

The tumultuous season led one Australian journalist to label 2012 as the Wallabies’ “annus horribilis”.

The problem for the Aussies in our rugby soap is that recently a neighbour has outshone them. This neighbour is a world champion, powerful, quick, determined, and tactically astute, is clad in skin-tight black, has a penchant for war dancing and even models underwear in his spare time.

Yes, it’s the All Blacks.

New Zealand did a pretty good job of denting Irish rugby dreams in June. They did likewise with their trans-Tasman rivals in the first two rounds of the former Tri Nations, retaining the Bledisloe Cup, the annual best of three test matches between the two Southern-hemisphere sides, for a tenth year running.

Yet in the third Bledisloe test, the Wallabies tore up the script for their neighbour to wallop them, holding the world champions to a draw and in doing so, reminding the rugby world and in particular Warren Gatland and the prospective Lions, of a combination of talent and grit that could potentially be damaging.

A subplot to next summer’s on-field action will be a battle for Australian hearts and minds. Unlike New Zealand and vast tracts of South Africa where rugby has an almost religious following, sporting affections are split between cricket, Aussie Rules, and rugby league, with rugby union probably in position as the fourth sport.

The Lions Tour is being marketed as a unique opportunity to witness what the Australians claim is only second to the World Cup, in terms of the biggest event in world rugby. The tour is being promoted in Australia with the tag line “12 years in the making”.

There are fears in Aussie media that the gold in the test match crowds will be smothered by the red of both travelling Lions fans and the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh diasporas.

A rather patriotic television advertising campaign has been launched. In the first advertisement a young green and gold clad rugby fan is singing the national anthem “Advance Australia Fair” in middle of an empty stadium, his face becomes clouded with fear when an actual lion emerges from the players’ tunnel. Just as the fearsome beast heads towards the young Australian, Pocock emerges and the piece finishes with the flanker and the animal glaring at each other, both about to pounce.

As well as the three test matches being seen as a shop window for rugby to grow in Australia, the Lions’ fixtures against Super Rugby franchises are being touted as crucial in growing regional support for provincial sides and with tickets priced much more affordably to these fixtures than the tests. It would seem the organisers are keen to entice young fans as junior and family tickets are particularly competitively priced.

A key feature of soap plots, is how the fortunes of characters seem to be constantly changing. How the fortunes of the Wallabies and Deans pan out during the Lions’ visit is sure to keep us riveted this summer.

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