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The latest documentary about the Wallabies is a difficult viewing experience that veers towards dark humor.
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The latest documentary about the Wallabies is a difficult viewing experience that veers towards dark humor.

Stan’s latest docuseries chronicles the Wallabies’ disastrous 2023 season and disastrous performance in the World Cup in France. The series has faced numerous obstacles and could be considered a dark comedy.

The Wallabies, a team that has been struggling with their performance, consists of a divisive main character who ultimately betrays his team. The interviews with the team members are filled with disappointment as they either get hurt or are cut from the team. Additionally, this team holds the unfortunate title of being the first Australian team to be eliminated in the initial stages of the World Cup, adding to the overall unpleasantness of watching them play.

However, compelling storytelling does not necessarily require positive developments, compelling characters, and happy conclusions to captivate an audience. Australians particularly enjoy tales of underdogs and epic failures.

The issue is that the filmmakers have aligned themselves with a team that has lost its integrity.

Reworded: The Wallabies were once considered Australia’s team, despite the AFL and NRL having larger fan bases and higher TV ratings. However, this sense of national unity has dwindled over the past 20 years. Currently, Australian rugby is struggling and the Wallabies’ performance has been disappointing, while the Matildas have captured our affection.

Having coach Eddie Jones as the main figure is a questionable decision. Previous coach Dave Rennie initially declined to participate in the documentary. His team was dealing with injuries and he was trying to establish a strong team culture, so he didn’t want any outside distractions.

However, when Rugby Australia fired Rennie and hired Jones, only nine months before the World Cup, the documentary was approved. Nicknamed “Fast Eddie”, Jones had just been let go by England Rugby and had a strong personality. While RA needed a coach, they ended up hiring a showman instead – a circus was bound to happen.

The first episode begins 145 days before France and Jones is highly motivated from the beginning, declaring to his eager team: “we will revolutionize Australian rugby”; “we will fiercely compete and win the World Cup”; “we will be the most exceptional team Australia has ever seen.” While this bravado is intended to motivate, we recognize it as mere empty words, likely to anger fans.

Mark NawaqanitawaseView image in fullscreen

Andrew Farrell, the executive producer, aimed to expand the viewership beyond just the hardcore fans. He expressed his desire for viewers to connect with the players and experience the game from their perspective. However, due to the challenging outcomes portrayed in the story, watching may require a certain level of masochism. After enduring the struggles of the Wallabies for two decades, fans may have reached their limit.

Some players have experienced personal journeys that add depth to team stories in these documentaries. However, the main group featured lacks understanding and faces unfortunate circumstances. Experienced player Michael Hooper is unfairly removed from the team, while front rowers Allan Alaalatoa, James Slipper, and Taniela Tupou all suffer injuries. Halfback Nic White is candid, humorous, and ultimately haunted, but overall, it is the grumbling of seasoned players as the team endures a 0-5 record and their World Cup hopes derail.

Since this team was the youngest ever, it would make sense to switch to a group of media-savvy players from the next generation. However, Jones and RA rejected this idea, not wanting their new faces to be “distracted.” Even Will Skelton, an unlikely captain for the campaign, is strangely absent. Instead, we see talented player Carter Gordon playing golf with his girlfriend and getting a haircut, while charismatic young players Mark Nawaqanitawase, Fraser McReight, Tom Hooper and Tate McDermott are kept quiet.

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The situation is damaging for the documentary, as the group supporting it lacks creativity. The executive members of Jones’ team consist mainly of individuals from NRL, AFL, and Euro-rugby backgrounds who are intimidated by Jones and are unwilling to question his growing control. Dr. Sharron Flahive is given a lot of attention for her factual information, while psychologist Dr. Corinne Read, who offers a rare voice of reason in the chaos, is ignored.

There is some lovely camerawork amidst the dervish of training, travel and game day and some poignant moments – a freshly-injured Tupou washing his muddy boots in a dirty shed – as well as some bracing ones – Jones decrying the Australian game’s lack of “hardness”. The fine margins of glorious victory and abject defeat are brought into sharp focus too. “The bounce of a ball, a pass left not right, and the Wallabies win and it all changes,” says Farrell.

However, among the numerous polished behind-the-scenes sports documentaries such as Drive to Survive (Formula One), Break Point (tennis), Full Swing (golf), Beckham (football), and Six Nations (rugby), The Wallabies stands out as flawed, much like the team it follows. According to Farrell, “RA knew it couldn’t simply be a PR stunt,” but they still had to censor certain footage to protect the players. Even Eddie’s wild and profanity-laden outbursts were edited out.

Hopefully the filmmakers are playing the long game: laying down a marker before profiling the rising stars baptised with fire in France who will contest the next World Cup on Australian soil. With some luck, the heartbreak kids of 2023 might be the Wallabies heroes of 2027. That’s a comeback story for the ages and an underdog story all Australians can get behind.

  • 2023

    The documentary series, “The Wallabies: Inside Rugby World Cup 2023,” is now streaming on Stan in Australia starting February 22, 2023.

Source: theguardian.com