Mat Rogers ruffled more than a few feathers in the upper echelons of “the game they play in heaven” with his entirely reasonable observations about the standard of club rugby union in Australia.
In a Sunday newspaper column, Rogers ventured to suggest that "club rugby in its present state is a waste of time".
For this unspeakable crime, a three man NSW Rugby Union panel fined Rogers an amount believed to run into several thousands of dollars, suspending part of the fine just in case he were ever tempted to repeat the comments.
An odd assortment of ex-players, mostly from the semi-professional era, also rounded on Rogers.
Greg Martin - the former Wallaby fullback whose meagre talents on the field bore no comparison to the pace, flare and skill of Rogers - churlishly told the league convert to “give us a yell when you've done something”. A thoughtful contribution, considering Roger’s scintillating form during last year’s World Cup, in which the Wallabies went agonisingly close to pinching the final from right under England’s nose.
Ever played in a World Cup final yourself, Greg?
Not to be outdone, former Wallaby prop Tony Daly insisted rugby union be given credit for its philanthropic transformation of Rogers from uncouth league lout to perfect rugger-gent. "Don't forget,” said the portly Daly, “he has come over from league with the long hair, earrings and tattoos and we've polished him up.”
Just in case Rogers - back from a six month stint on the sidelines, during which time he’d had a pin inserted in his ankle - had missed the point, former Wallaby captain Nick Farr-Jones gravely declared he was “disappointed” in him.
What gives with these dinosaurs?
Admittedly Rogers doesn’t have a hyphenated name, perfect elocution or a regular barber - but what he does have is phenomenal talent and a superb record of achievement in both codes - not to mention the capacity to contribute to future Australian rugby success in a way his trio of critics don’t.
Rugby union has made giant strides as a sport since Martin, Daly and Farr-Jones plied their trade. Professionalism has increased union’s profile and player standards, but there is always room for improvement, as leading coach John Connelly admits.
Connelly acknowledged the essential truth of Rogers’ comments, pointing out that the problem with club rugby is its “two nights a week” training culture.
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