Adam Freier, journalist and a newly signed Rebel player (and injuries pending, a Wallaby in the 2011 season) has penned an excellent article on the need to support and love grassroots rugby. Here it is reproduced below from the Sydney Morning Herald website and the link to the Herald:
Look after the grassroots and the game will thrive
July 18, 2010
As the sun sets on a cool winter's day at Coogee Oval, a crowd of rugby enthusiasts gather to watch two of Sydney's finest do battle for the heavily weighted plank of hardwood covered in stainless steel that is known to all rugby tribes as the Shute Shield.
The TV crew has arrived, not decked in fancy suits with celebrity commentators, but with polar fleece, Kelly Country and equipment from That 70's Show. No 12-month subscription required - the game is free on our beloved and loyal rugby network, the ABC.
The price of admission is $15, beers are $4 and a burger decked with sausage, bacon, egg and onion is great value at $5. But the real value isn't in the dollar-per-calorie snack - it's in the 80 minutes of entertainment on the field.
The teams are stacked with Wallabies talent, with players not turning out for match practice or to impress selectors but to play park rugby for the absolute love of the game.
Good, honest rugby in your own backyard. Getting vocal at your local. Could it be any better? Well, quite simply, yes.
All sports have supporters, and rugby is no different from AFL and no ''more better'' than rugby league. But where we need to draw closer to Australia's other great winter codes is in the number of fanatics. And club rugby is the breeding ground for our most loyal and passionate fans.
From NSW Country to Subbies and across to Bayswater in Perth, the people who play and support the game for nothing but love are what helps it stay buoyant.
All current players hear the same old story from the players of yesteryear: "Back in my day, we never got paid and we made the Wallabies from our club side." But in today's climate, with sport more an entertainment brand, each club's best are filtered out of their team, which is left standing, grasping for that talent. Yet still the fans come out in droves.
Some say the NRL is bulletproof, with player behaviour and salary caps, but the argument can have the same weight in club rugby. In 1996, rugby became professional and clubs that produced great players were discriminated against as they had to devote their time and skill to their employer, News Limited. Worse still, clubs with full-time Wallabies would never see a player in the beloved district strip.
George Gregan was a Randwick player who played only a few games for his club. No disrespect to Greegs - there just wasn't the protocol or time.
Then the Eddie Jones era began, and Mat Rogers and his fellow Wallabies thought that a day in camp would be far more beneficial then a game of club footy. What message did that send to the kid at Penrith who might have had the opportunity to see Wendell Sailor in his prime play against the Emus at Nepean Rugby Park but couldn't because Wendell was training?
Then the ARC came along and formed a new brand of rugby that gave our game four tiers of competition. From club to ARC, to state to country, unlike any sport in the world. It lasted one season.
Surely the battering and pilfering would see a group of non-profiting clubs fall away or merge to stay afloat. But they hung on for dear life and marched forward. Never have I seen a game with such resilience and support. By no means is this all one person's doing.
We haven't helped the cause, either, by having a window or decision to make once a player has played 30 games in a calendar year. But no player would argue that the games are a worry; it's the hours spent on the training paddock that are a concern.
Throughout rugby's professional era we may have lost and gained fans and corporate dollars, but one thing that has been immune to the crush of professionalism is the support and tribalism of club rugby.
Where is rugby in Australia at present? The easiest way to measure it is by checking where the Wallabies sit on the IRB world rankings. But the grassroots should be given almost the same weight.
Don't measure the success of our game by the performance of the Wallabies against the All Blacks or Springboks, but look at it from a "game of rugby" point of view internally. Robbie may not have delivered any trophies yet, but what he has done is ensured that players want to - instead of have to - play, and that is measured by the people who turn out for their club.
Each week in camp, Robbie will get each player to stand up in the team meeting to tell the group of how he played for his club in the week. It gives them credibility.
It also makes players interact and feel like stakeholders and ensures that we recognise the true fans. We must never take for granted the people who volunteer their time and effort in our local clubs.