Wallabies coach Eddie Jones left thrilled by rugby's 'rat man'
Club rugby is alive and well, with Wallabies coach Eddie Jones excited about the Shute Shield showdown between Warringah and Manly.
A grown man walking the streets in a rat suit may not appear the most sophisticated promotional tool ever seen in sport. But it's won the admiration of Wallabies coach Eddie Jones as rugby union continues to claw its way back to prominence.
The Australia coach is a massive fan of grassroots football and was rapt to hear the intensity and emotion still remains at club level as two mortal enemies prepare to face off on Sydney's northern beaches. The 101st meeting between fierce rivals Manly and Warringah takes place at Manly Oval on Saturday in front of 5000-plus fans.
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The two Shute Shield clubs have been going at each other for more than half a century, with the Warringah Rats throwing extra fuel on the fire this week by filming their mascot strolling the streets of Manly. It's the sort of passion, theatre and entertainment sustaining Australian rugby during arguably the most testing period in its existence.
"That's good, that's a bit of fun," Jones told Yahoo Sport Australia after being informed of the provocative Rats video. "It's your next-door neighbours having a bit of fun.
"People still want to see good contests between community clubs that mean something to the area. That game means a lot. Everyone plays hard, everyone plays tough, they support it."
Eddie Jones pumps up local Shute Shield rivalries
Jones, a former Randwick hooker, is a huge supporter of club rugby throughout Australia. He sees it as the lifeblood of the game at a time when rugby needs good news stories to keep it relevant against other codes.
"There's got to be a 'why'. Why you want to go and watch, why you want your team to win," Jones said. "I think that (club rugby) has retained that really well.
"I think club rugby is going to get stronger and stronger. "The standard's pretty good (and) enthusiasm for people to watch has remained steady.
"And the great thing about rugby – and it's a tribute to the sport – that when it's finished, everyone gets back on with life."
Club rugby's popularity is in stark contrast to the next level up, where Super Rugby outfits like the Waratahs are giving away tickets to entice fans to games.
Jones said: "International rugby is incredibly popular – everyone wants to watch their national team – but I think the middle tier of rugby is the most difficult part."
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