Holbeck: For the Love of the Game

Bill Pulver wrote a letter last week to address the rugby union community. It is obviously polite to respond but this letter is intended to go past the middle man and straight to his maker. This is a letter to the game of rugby itself.


Dearest Rugby,


I know we never officially broke up but I feel of late we have been just growing apart.


Every time I have wanted to return to wholeheartedly loving you, something happened that turned me away again.


I could not keep up with your constant rule changes, with players not being held responsible for their actions and the politics that seem to riddle sport.


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You no longer held any resemblance to the game I remembered and loved. You were arrogant at times, greedy, disrespectful, immature and foolhardy. I know that I am not innocent in all of this, but you really hurt me. You told me you loved me and then cast me out as easily as one of the Honey Badger’s colloquial metaphors. I found it hard to stand up for us and what we represented.


As I was hesitantly watching you in action at the World Cup, something happened that changed me.


I realized that you are bigger than those things I had grown to dislike. Those things are merely a misrepresentation of what you truly stand for. I was then reminded of some of our great times shared together.


Of watching the Ella brothers play club rugby on the ABC as a kid, before running outside to practise what I had just seen. Of Phil Kearns’s back-to-front victory sign held up after scoring a try to beat the unrelenting rugby super robots from the shadowy cloud of New Zealand.

Remember that time we watched Campese way back in 1991 dominate one of the great All Black teams with his jinking runs and then throw that audacious no-look pass over the shoulder for Timmy Horan to score? (Sigh….)


I remembered how I then had the opportunity to play with Campese in club rugby and prank him by hiding in the showers until he was walking out the dressing room door. How he would see me suddenly appear and stop as if to adjust his socks while he subtly waited for me to pass so that he could maintain his rule of being the last player to run on to the field. Great times, rugby. Great times.


Sure we’ve had tough times too – like when Johnny Wilkinson kicked that field goal in 2003 and I had to share the train back from Homebush with thousands of English supporters who seemingly hadn’t celebrated anything in recent times. When I presumptuously asked the English supporters sitting at the next table in a French bar where they would like to stick their chariots in 2007, just before we fell away to lose the game and I had to once again show the art of being a gracious loser. It was character building.

As Cheik and the elite ambassadors at the World Cup showed us late last year, rugby, you are such a wonderful game. The Wallabies, among other teams, represented the spirit of rugby by working relentlessly to win games and honouring opponents after the game.


Parts of Mr Pulver’s letter acknowledges others who demonstrate your value. I had never stopped appreciating the heart of who you are, which mostly lies away from the market forces of elite sport and is held instead on the fields of junior and club rugby.


You provide an exemplar for race politics in this country where my Indigenous teammates and I could bleed together and rely on each other to strive toward a common goal. You celebrate diversity by embracing all cultures, body shapes, sexuality and sizes into your arms. All are of equal worth in your eyes and perhaps it is only the forwards who would be so bold as to argue that some players are created more equal than others. 


I now reflect on the unsighted helpers setting up the hessian fencing early on crisp Saturday mornings at Coogee Oval in Sydney or arriving at the fields around Brisbane to find the medical staff & strappers already settled in for a long and arduous day. Visits to country areas to experience what you mean to the people representing the Jindabyne Bushpigs, the Bombala Bluetongues or the Coonabarabran Kookaburras.


All of these people are truly the giants of the game for they honour and serve you without gaining anything in return but simply a chance to be part of what you are. These stewards espouse a sense of what the game is and the values and character that the future direction should be built upon.


As the stewards of the game your servants demonstrate to the next generation a willingness to sacrifice their time simply because they love what you represent and their desire for another generation to share in those same qualities.


Oh rugby, I’ve missed you.


Affectionately yours,


James Holbeck


James Holbeck is a former Brumbies and Wallabies centre with an Honours in Psychology. James has since earned a reputation as an insightful mentor & coach at Hope Beckons


The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.

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