Australia's great rugby minds going to waste, Craig Dowd writes

When I heard Alan Jones' comments about the state of Australian rugby, I almost thought, "how dare he make so much sense". I thought what he said was so accurate.

At a time when everyone is looking for answers and waiting to see if a team is taken out of the Australian Conference, Jones' remarks were the sort of thing the Australian Rugby Union should be listening to.

They should be in a position where they are saying: "Hang on a minute, SANZAAR shouldn't be dictating to us, we need to look after what is best for us."

And Jones was talking about schoolboy rugby, club rugby and, ultimately, what is the correct pathway to make more Wallabies. That should be their mindset, but it doesn't appear so because rugby is a dying game in Australia.

There seems to be a reluctance to engage some of the great minds available to Australian rugby to discuss a way out of the mire they find themselves in.

What has happened there could never happen in New Zealand because the game means too much. It's our No.1 game, it's too important to every New Zealander to let it get to that stage. But in saying that, New Zealand is in a really healthy situation - they've played 35 games against Australian franchises and only lost twice.

The weekend past only highlighted that when they beat four of the five Australian sides while the other had a bye. Some of those Australian sides played with a bit of heart and didn't look too bad, others did. I guess the results just highlight the clear gulf that exists between Australia and New Zealand. But how do you fix it?

What you do is listen to people like Alan Jones who make so much sense.

If you don't get some of these people together around a round table to work out a way to relieve the situation you run the risk of others getting around a different round table and creating a breakaway competition. And that is not beyond the realms of possibility.

When someone is highlighting the problem but he or she is being ignored, there will be other people who are listening and who are capable of saying: "We'll give up on this body and we'll shift our support over there.

AFL is huge, rugby league is huge, football is a growing sport while rugby is caught up behind them all and in retreat at a great rate of knots.

We, in New Zealand, need Australia. Do we need South Africa? They're too far away.

People ask where all the money is going but when the players fly business class to South Africa and they stay in top accommodation the costs begin to add up. But you do have to look after your players no doubt because they are your best commodity.

But the expense involved in doing that is taking away all the funds. The problem is the same for all the countries involved but when you are a Union like Australia, not flush with funds, you're pouring it down the toilet.

You need Australia and New Zealand to be strong, there are three island nations that are completely forgotten and you could have an Oceania competition.

The NRL, which has nine clubs in Sydney, has proved to the world that you can have a very healthy, and strong, international-style competition played in a very small catchment area.

If New Zealand and Australia said, "we don't need everyone else", they could create an amazing competition which would attract the world's eyes. People would watch it on television and the result would be more bums on seats because they would want to be involved with 'their' team from their region which is something that has been lost in the franchise model.

And I'm saying this at a time when New Zealand rugby is very strong. But I'm looking at this through what I imagine are Australian eyes.

As for the rugby at the weekend, you would have to say TJ Perenara was outstanding for the Hurricanes against the Reds.

Aaron Smith had a great week leading up to his 100th game for the Highlanders and was talked up in the media about being right back to his very best. But there's one person who is going to remind Smith he is not the incumbent -- and Perenara had an absolute blinder. His correction pointed out to the referee showed just how on top of his game he is.

I think he realised he hadn't touched the ball so he must have been thinking, 'OK, I didn't touch the ball so the best case scenario is to go back for the advantage' which was in play at the time.

Given he was captaining the side in Dane Coles' absence he showed how much he has stepped up and it is obvious that in Perenara and Smith we have two world-class half-backs to call on in New Zealand. Aaron Smith has been referred to, by a lot of people, as the world's No.1. But, equally, Perenara has staked a claim for that consideration. Either way, we are in a good position there.

Talking about players: Ardie Savea just goes from strength to strength. He's still only a young man but his involvement too is impressive and with Sam Cane on the scene, it reminds me of the time we had Michael Jones and Josh Kronfeld. It shows just how healthy our loose forward stocks are and I suppose they always will be.

The Chiefs had to work hard but I think they will be there at the business end of the season while the Crusaders were impressive again in beating the Waratahs. Loose passes are killing the Blues and I cannot understand the number of players who don't look where they are passing. It looks awful, even when it is successful. The best pass in the world is one that someone catches, but they are not even giving those guys a chance to catch the ball with some of the passes.

But they did show that when they learn and get that right, they will be a dangerous force.

I have to say I am liking Matt Duffie the more I see of him. He's gone from strength to strength and he's clearly understanding the game a lot more. He was by far the pick of the backs for me and has been consistently so for the last couple of weeks. He's great under the high ball; I like him.