Australian Rugby 'caught with its pants down'
Cult hero winger Nick Cummins left Australian rugby on Friday, sauntering into the Canberra night with a carton of beer and leaving his coach to lament his loss to the Perth-based Western Force and the game in general.
Cummins garnered a cult following in Super Rugby with his flowing blonde locks held in place by 1970s-style thick white tape and a ready supply of quips to put the bland offerings of his colleagues to shame.
The 26-year-old was released from his contract for personal reasons and will take a lucrative opportunity to play in Japan, a move that Force coach Michael Foley felt could have been avoided if the Australian Rugby Union had opened their chequebook.
''I think Australian rugby in my opinion got caught with its pants down letting him go to Japan,'' Foley told reporters in Canberra following the 47-25 loss to the ACT Brumbies, which ended the Force's hopes of making the playoffs.
''It's something we've got to think really hard about.''
Few have questioned the decision by Cummins, who gave himself the nickname 'Honey Badger' after seeing a documentary on the animal and being impressed by its ferocity and toughness.
The 15-test winger said his ailing family members were behind the move, implying his earning power in Japan would better allow him to take care of them.
Two of his seven siblings suffer from cystic fibrosis and his father is battling cancer.His departure is likely to be keenly felt by rugby's hierarchy in Australia.
He had unique appeal in the crowded Australian sporting landscape and also in rugby-mad New Zealand where television sports shows often highlighted his wittier utterances and high-energy performances.
''(It's) at a time where we're talking about the commercial challenges of the game and we let a player like that go,'' said Foley.
''And I don't mean just an international player but a player with that profile and that appeal across demographics that very few other players touch.
''As a coach I'd really love him to come back. I'm encouraging Mark (Sinderberry) our CEO to make it happen because I think he's excellent for us.''
Cummins, who started all three tests for the Wallabies against France last month, is just one of many abandoning Australian rugby for more lucrative pay offshore a year out from the World Cup in England.
''A player is judged by what he does on the field and (Cummins) rips in,'' Foley said.
''I say that all the time. It's the easiest thing to say but in my mind that's exactly what he does, he rips in.
''He makes big tackles for us, he makes big runs for us, he's wholehearted. He's fearless in the way he plays, he's the only winger that's ever come back from test duty with a sore neck. I don't know how that happened but the reality is he runs hard at the contact.
''Off the field he's a character, he's very different.
''He adds a lot of colour to the team and we'll miss him.''