Under a drizzle at Bankwest Stadium, in the minutes leading up to the Wallabies’ 16-16 Tri-Nations draw with Argentina, an archaic and divisive tradition may have been replaced by a new one in keeping with its time.
In a historic moment for an international sporting event, the Australian national anthem was sung in a local indigenous language.
After Graham Davis King welcomed the country and Argentina’s national anthem was played, Olivia Fox, a young singer from the Newtown School of Performing Arts, began her interpretation of the Australian acoustic guitar.
Before singing the controversial English version of the national anthem, he did so in the language of the Eora nation, the coastal Aboriginal clans of the area around the city of Sydney.
All the Wallabies players, dressed in their First Nations jersey, had memorized the words and they all made that fact known. It was a highly applauded moment and described on social media as “chilling”, “classy” and “a huge step forward” for Australian sport.
The exercise was one of inclusion, the effect was a slap in the face to every government and sports organization that, until tonight, had refused to make such a gesture due to the bad place of maintaining “tradition.”
The NRL, who, to its credit, has made similar gestures before All Stars games and Indigenous rounds, was recently guilty of this eyes-wide-shut attitude when it reneged on its plan to scrap the national anthem before State of the art games. Origin after the event. speech by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
But Rugby Australia got this right, and the timing was striking enough to have made the evening’s result irrelevant.
It was not, of course, even if the math suggested otherwise. The All Blacks sat beautifully and almost impregnable on top of the Three Nations table. Barring a 101-point Wallabies win, Saturday night was a run for second place with little more than pride on the line.
But pride matters when it comes to international rugby, and coach Dave Rennie had expressed hope ahead of the game that a victory over Argentina in their 2020 Final Test could act as a stepping stone to 2021.
The idea, Rennie said, was to turn pressure into points, a key failure in their 15-15 draw against the Pumas a fortnight ago. The first half here certainly did not meet his expectations. Possession and territory were back with the hosts, but they did not coincide with the attacking ideas against a Pumas defense prepared for the fight.
By the break they were down 13-6 and without a try against the South Americans in three halves. By this time, Marcos Kremer had been trashed for a dangerous hands-free cleanup against James O’Connor.
That caused less damage than Michael Hooper’s subsequent yellow card for ramming his left shoulder into Nicolás Sánchez’s face, as Argentina emphatically struck out 14 men, converting a lineout to their own 22 on an 80-meter try.
The entire conversation during the week had been about Pablo Matera, the captain of Argentina initially coming out of the XV and retiring from his leadership role after offensive tweets came to light, only to later be reinstated as a skipper, but not in the team of the day.
For Pumas coach Mario Ledesma, the disciplinary issues were simply the “toughest” adversity in a year packed with things, and his pre-game observation that his tough playing group has “stood his ground” literally played out in across the field with a tremendous tackling display that could have taken their game had it not been for Hooper’s try in the 69th minute and Reece Hodge’s start.
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto had been sanctioned with a red card nine minutes earlier for a rude high shot on Santiago Grondona, but another yellow card to the Pumas eliminated the numerical disadvantage and, with 14 against 14, Hooper made his break and Hodge nailed the conversion.
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