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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.

Greg Growden writes ...
Australian rugby shooting itself in the foot
Greg Growden
February 14, 2014
Who is the man in the middle, Western Force? © Getty Images
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After endless days of being told through the media that Australian rugby, New South Wales rugby, every type of rugby in this part of the world, has gone bung, you expected to be confronted by buskers and beggars at the Super Rugby tournament launch.

Thankfully those Australian rugby officials who have repeatedly provided "blame game" gloom-and-doom stories to the press opted against asking for donations at the mid-week launch. But the media still soon realised the gravy-train days were over. It was now very much no-frills, cutting away the fat and gnawing on a bit of gristle. We kept our hands in our pockets in fear of hearing Brother Can You Spare a Dime over the loudspeakers.

Australian Super Rugby launches not that long ago involved the best function room in town, Las Vegas-style entertainment, fireworks, plenty of whiz-bang, whooping and hollering. It was the moment when Australian rugby officials convinced all they had a product of the highest international quality, deserving of media saturation. This year, television, radio and print types were beckoned to an out-of-the-way Sydney surf life saving club, with some getting lost along the way.

No-one could complain with the fare on offer from the clubbies. The food, hospitality and the ocean view on offer were first-rate. But it wasn't exactly cutting edge, and attendance numbers were dramatically down.

The sombre tone also wasn't helped when one of the five Australian Super Rugby teams wasn't properly represented. On stage, for the Waratahs were Michael Cheika, Dave Dennis and Israel Folau; the Reds Richard Graham and Will Genia; Stephen Larkham and Ben Mowen were there for the Brumbies; as were Tony McGahan and Scott Higginbotham for the Rebels. In the middle of them all was a very tall man in a Western Force jersey. Only a dedicated Force trainspotter would have known who he was.

Russell Barwick and Greg Growden look at the Australian Super Rugby conference

Greg Clark, the function MC, tried to revive interest by saying the man in the Force jersey had a great story. He was actually from Tasmania. Was he related to Errol Flynn or Merle Oberon, we all wondered? Apparently not, so no media stampede only more puzzled looks. His name? Adam Coleman - one of the new Force breed. Check the official Super Rugby media guide for details. No, he didn't make the cut.

Well where was their coach Michael Foley and leader Matt Hodgson?

Apparently the Force were victims of the "tyranny of distance". Other functions, commitments, trial matches, etc. etc. etc., apparently made it too hard for the Force heavies to get there in time from the other side of the continent. Their media manager got to the launch, as did the main rugby writer from Western Australia, but not the public faces of the Force.

The no show was not a good look, especially at a time when Australian rugby is seriously asking itself whether it warrants five Super Rugby teams when a number of them are either crying poor or relying on the national body for financial support.

In the background at the function, several tournament overseers were muttering about how amateur it all looked, complaining that the Australian Rugby Union should have put more pressure on the Force to have their main men there. This was the tournament shop front window; without the full team representation, it was smeared.

The headlines the following day in the Sydney media?

Nothing rousing there. Instead more trauma and tragedy. The person who should be the code's biggest spruiker was dumping again.

The Daily Telegraph splashed with "We're Flat Broke "with the sub-heading "Rugby boss Pulver warns code must face painful financial measures".

Underneath, ARU boss Bill Pulver provided a gloomy outlook about how cuts, cuts, cuts were required to avoid Australian rugby going into receivership.

Again…. not a good look.


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