Mick Cleary: Australia right to wield long knife on wobbly Wallabies
You had to do a double take when reading Monday’s press release from the Australia Rugby Union: six players suspended for one match, nine others disciplined, all for quaffing “inappropriate levels of alcohol” on a midweek night out ahead of the match against Ireland.
The long knife has been wielded. Five players, including high-profile wings Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick Cummins, have been stood down from Saturday’s match against Scotland at Murrayfield.
Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Liam Gill complete the naughty boy quintet, with prop Paddy Ryan withdrawn for the match against Wales the following week.
The Australian back line and front row will have to be radically rejigged.
First the cricketers, now the rugby union players – the Aussies have a drink problem.
Several Wallabies apparently went all wobbly on a team bonding evening. In the land that gave us Guinness, this was dark stuff of a different order.
Mind you, given that Australia put in their best performance of a wretched year in winning 32-15, perhaps they should try a dram before facing Scotland.
To be sanctioned for drinking in Dublin is akin to being rapped on the knuckles for staring at a Wonderbra billboard. There are certain things in life impossible to resist.
As that peerless sportswriter Hugh McIlvanney used to advise, the first thing to do on a trip to the Irish capital is to organise the escape committee or you might be ensnared by temptation forever and a day.
Times have changed. The Australian team who won the 1991 Rugby World Cup by beating England at Twickenham were effectively honorary citizens of Dublin following their hearts-and-minds stay there.
What of those emerald-shirted roisterers of an earlier generation, Willie Duggan and Moss Keane?
Duggan was reputed to pass his cigarette to a steward as he ran out at Lansdowne Road while Keane was said to insist on a few glasses on Friday nights to quell the nerves.
Professionalism has changed the landscape.
No more Brian Clough taking the Nottingham Forest boys out on the eve of the European Cup final against Malmo in Munich.
No more high jinks on Lions tours, hazy recollections of which have fuelled the after-dinner circuit.
We can all reminisce and romanticise, conveniently skipping over the fact that one man’s boisterous booze-up is another’s anti-social hooliganism.
The advent of the mobile phone camera has also queered the pitch.
Nowhere is off limits, as England discovered at the World Cup in New Zealand.
We can be thankful no leprechauns were molested on the Wallaby bender.
Australian sport has had issues with booze and errant conduct, from cricketer David Warner’s Walkabout punch-up to various rugby league indiscretions.
Union, too, has been bedevilled with problems. James O’Connor is in purdah at London Irish after being kicked out of the Wallaby squad for yet another drink-related incident.
Quade Cooper has had his moments while full-back Kurtley Beale has been forced into rehab for alcohol-related difficulties.
That is why Australia coach Ewen McKenzie, a former prop and part of the 1991 World Cup-winning group, had to act. McKenzie is no puritan but he is no mug either.
Wallaby rugby has a dreadful reputation. Robbie Deans, the former coach, let various matters drift and the weak-willed took advantage.
As Stuart Lancaster has shown, a team can expect to achieve little if there is no respect for each other or codes within the squad.
No one steps out of line in Lancaster’s England. In part, peer group pressure sees to that, the iron fist in the velvet glove does the rest, as Danny Care found out when he was thrown out of Lancaster’s first Six Nations set-up.
There were no complaints from the public over the Wallabies’ excesses.
There was no booze ban in place, but there was accepted practice.
One glass fine, one bottle not fine. It is called being a grown-up.
Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Saia Fainga’a, Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps were handed written sanctions while Scott Fardy, Mike Harris, Ben McCalman and Nic White were reprimanded verbally.
It would have been easy for McKenzie to do nothing. Instead he may just have made the most significant move of his entire career.
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