Australian rugby success can be judged only by Bledisloe Cup wins

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At long last some common sense has emanated from head office.

After years of nonsense from the previous Rugby Australia boss about sevens football being the jewel in the crown, the organisation's new chief executive, Raelene Castle, has provided some sanity by explaining the best way to revive an ailing code is to make the Wallabies winners, in particular Bledisloe Cup winners.

How sweet it was to hear Castle say that Bledisloe Cup victory is the only way Australian rugby can claim it's had a successful season. Simple, but oh so true. Actually, winning any Super Rugby match over a New Zealand team would be a start after the Australian sides lost every single game to their Kiwi opponents last season. 26-blot.

Such a diabolical situation is not surprising considering how Rugby Australia in recent seasons lost its way. The five-year Bill Pulver era was forgettable -- an excruciatingly long rugby recession that rose out of the mire only momentarily when the Australian women won Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro. There were hardly any other highlights as Pulver pursued publicity through the sevens sideshow and women's football.

While Pulver fiddled, the far more important Australian XVs game burned -- with head office alienating, even infuriating, many crucial elements of the local game, particularly clubland and the juniors.

Pulver is gone, but a serious blot on the code remains: the Rugby Australia board of directors who have not endeared themselves to the heartland with a succession of bewildering decisions. They couldn't even get the axing of an Australian Super Rugby team right. The decision to cut a team was logical as Australian rugby cannot sustain five teams, but the board culled the wrong franchise. Melbourne Rebels should have been cut, and Western Force's demise came about in a messy and unprofessional fashion.

Raelene Castle is looking to make a difference, but that won't happen if the board members remain. She bows to them. They are the problem.

At least Castle, who moved across from the treacherous Sydney rugby league world where there are conflicting reports about her ability to handle a crisis, is making the right statements.

Regaining trans-Tasman respect is imperative. During the John O'Neill era, New Zealand feared Australia on the field and at the board table. When the Wallabies were last Bledisloe Cup holders, in 2002, the Australian game was healthy and the national team played in front of capacity crowds. Rugby had a strong footprint in Australia.

Not now. New Zealand officials regarded Pulver as a lightweight and did whatever they liked at the negotiation table, often to Australia's detriment, while on the field Australian teams were usually laughable. Now Australia's faint footprint requires a quality bush tracker man to find any trace.

But remember what happened in October last year, when the Wallabies finally defeated the All Blacks for the first time in eight encounters. There was again interest in the Australian game. Fair-weather friends suddenly reappeared in the green-and-gold garb. There were even suggestions that Australia may be back on track for another billowing Rugby World Cup campaign. Bledisloe Cup victories have that effect. It is a simple formula, and a winning formula. Wins put bums on seats.

The first step towards an Australian Rugby revival will come with making an imprint during the Super Rugby season; not just one win over their New Zealand rivals, but regular victories. Only then can the Australian product be taken seriously.

The calibre of the Australian teams should improve as they have been condensed into four. However, several of the teams still look flimsy and well short of the New Zealand contingent, which will force the head coaches into actually making a difference.

Daryl Gibson at the Waratahs is the coach under most pressure. His period as Tahs head coach has been underwhelming. His team has not performed to expectations, lacking urgency. There is also general confusion over what exactly is the Tahs' game plan. Another meandering year will be the end of Gibson.

Then there is the bright new hope, Dave Wessels, who moved across to the Rebels after the Force were axed. For some, he appears to be the Wallabies' heir apparent to Michael Cheika. But he still has to prove himself. Wessels' job last year was relatively easy, as his team had the best motivating factor of all -- they were fighting for their own existence. A coach in such a position really doesn't have to do much more than make sure his frothing-at-the-mouth players take the right turn out of the dressing room.

This season, there are also advantages. Wessels has an abundance of players to choose from -- melding the Force squad members with the Rebels stalwarts. Only when Wessels has a bunch of wayward stragglers and strugglers to coach will we really discover his true skills. The Rebels basically have to make the finals this season for Wessels to be taken seriously.

Cheika will also need to pick up his act. One Bledisloe Cup win is fine, but there were too many inexplicable blunders during 2017 for his season to be regarded as satisfactory. His 53 percent success rate from 45 Tests is not startling.

Cheika will again rely on Australia's top-end earners to provide a team structure. Israel Folau realised he had to make more of an impact last season, and he did so. Now, after opting out of the end-of-season Wallabies tour, Folau has to go the extra step to be a regular match winner at both Super Rugby and Test level.

David Pocock will provide Michael Hooper with much-needed backrow support, and it won't surprise if they are tried again as a tandem operation -- especially after some backrowers tried by Cheika last season were little more than powder puffs. Hooper was over-worked in 2017, and he needs someone to share the workload.

Kurtley Beale, after years of tedious and predictable 'I'm back and I'm reformed' newspaper stories, must also show that he is a senior Test player of note. Beale is too inconsistent, too prone to look for excuses when everything goes wrong, and he is often overshadowed in the major internationals.

Despite relentless media support, Beale is yet to certify himself as a top-shelf footballer. Only when he does will Australian rugby find itself on far better footing, and a certain chief executive will be able to properly boast about a long-awaited revival.