Union's battle reflected in private school's plight
If there is anything like class distinction in Australia, then it must be the differentiation between those who play rugby league and those who play rugby union.
Stereotypically, it is believed that the blue-collar worker's son joins rugby league while the professional classes send their offspring to play rugby union.
Now we don't know how much truth there is in this theory. But one interesting point which has come to attention is the plight of one of Sydney's top private schools.
The prestigious Sydney Grammar School had problems raising a rugby union side this season and was forced to borrow players on loan from a sister school to field a side.
The reason for the dearth in numbers is twofold. One is because rugby union is facing stiff competition in the popularity stakes from its cousin, rugby league.
But the other more interesting feature, which has Hong Kong connotations attached to it, is the fact that the reduction in playing numbers directly relates to the increasing numbers of overseas students at Sydney Grammar - most of whom come from Asia.
Due to the growing Asian student population, fewer numbers are available to play for the school. With an education costing parents an arm and a leg, it is obvious that all the emphasis is on study rather than play.
But the other factor, according to long-time residents of Sydney, is that new Asian students don't favour contact sports. Hmmm! Have we heard that argument before in Hong Kong? There is no doubt that rugby union is battling in the popularity stakes with rugby league here.
One look at the newspapers and there is no doubt which the winner is. While reams of copy is being written on league, poor union gets nothing more than a passing remark most of the time.
The way the New South Wales Waratahs played against long-time rivals the Queensland Reds in last week's Super 12 encounter also does not help the cause of promoting the game. They were humbled 30-13 in a match which was a poor exhibition for running rugby. Australian Rugby Union officials will also be worried at the consequences of that game. It seems the game plan of Queensland, Australia's top team in the Super 12 presently, is to kick the ball high into the opposition's half and rely on an infringement at the breakdown to secure penalties.
And the Reds have in Nathan Spooner a most reliable goal-kicker to net the points. He scored 20 points against the Waratahs.
Spooner is tipped to be the Wallaby flyhalf at this year's World Cup. So will this be the game plan for the Wallabies? For Spooner's attacking skills are virtually non-existent - he prefers to let his boot do the talking and is generally uncomfortable with the ball in hand.
If the Australians adopt such a plan, it will be ironic. Remember the 1991 World Cup when the Wallaby camp castigated England and Rob Andrew for playing a kicking game? That ploy worked. England tried to run the ball and were beaten by the Aussies. Now it seems the boot is on the other foot. All in all, worrying times for rugby union Down Under.