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ESPN SCRUM / ESPNscrum Columnist
Greg Growden
Greg Growden | Columnist Index
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.
Ruck'n Maul
How much do Force want James O'Connor?
Greg Growden
February 21, 2014
Ruck'n Maul: you know it makes sense

James O'Connor is expected back in Australia playing Super Rugby next year, but he may not be with the early favourites to sign him - Western Force. It was assumed that O'Connor, wanting to play for the Wallabies in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, would head back to Perth. But there appears to be a major stumbling block. Ruck'n Maul's sources in the Wild West say several of the province's directors have an in-principle agreement for the 2015 return of O'Connor to the Force, but there is a proviso: apparently O'Connor lacks faith in one of the Force's key off-field staff members, and the Wallabies exile wants an important personnel change made before he commits himself. Now we'll really see how serious the Force are in wanting to lure back O'Connor, who left that province on poor terms some years ago. O'Connor last year had to head to Europe for a contract after being shunned by both Melbourne Rebels and the Australian Rugby Union following several off-field incidents. Interest from the other Australian provinces remains lukewarm.

Seconds out …

There is a serious problem at another Australian province on the eve of their first Super Rugby action of the year, as the coach and the captain have had a falling out. It has something to do with an incident on the Wallabies' end-of-year tour of Europe. The coach will win this battle, and the player could be making a premature exit - especially if the province struggles in the early Super Rugby rounds.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Tahland

Greg Growden's team-by-team preview

© SANZAR (Image Supplied)

The Waratahs are buoyant about their Super Rugby chances, and coach Michael Cheika has succeeded in improving their fitness during the off-season, but things are not so jolly away from the rugby department. There is a serious divide between the team and several of the folk making decisions in head office; especially after recent administrative staff cuts were handled in a shoddy manner. The situation wasn't helped when New South Wales rugby officials bleated publicly about the Waratahs' troublesome financial situation, and how it was imperative to get a home final this season. This enraged several in the Waratahs team camp. Some heated telephone calls followed. Close observers of the Waratahs are also deeply concerned with the province's less-than-inspiring work in the marketing and sponsorship area. It also appears Argentina is again sniffing around Cheika to be their 2015 Rugby World Cup coach.

You can't make this stuff up

Australian Rugby Union officials continually crying poor have irritated many people at provincial and club level. Making it all so delicate is the ARU's contentious push to levy $200 from every rugby club to stop the code going under. This has led to the cry: "Why should we give the ARU money, when they do nothing for us?" The gloomy situation has even led to dissent within the ARU ranks. One often-abrasive powerbroker is unhappy that he is being questioned about his management skills, and has made his feelings known. Maybe another notable figure will be soon walking out the ARU exit door. The proposal for player pay cuts is causing angst, but there is also confusion in the ranks over how the third-tier National Rugby Championship will be run, whether it will actually start this year, while match venues remain an issue. Elsewhere, the relationship between the ARU and one province is very delicate. Let's just say an ARU official calls his provincial counterpart "Manuel", as in Fawlty Towers.

On a more rousing note …

Full marks to the Warringah Rugby club, which again showed off its big heart during the off-season. They headed to Alice Springs, where, armed with 1200kg of gear, they were involved in spreading the word via coaching clinics. They also took with them 5000 books, which they gave to day-care centres in the area. They have in the past travelled to Kenya, where the players helped to build a bridge, and conducted coaching clinics in Cuba.

And a great cameo appearance from Brumbies media man Elliot Woods, filmed striding outside Parliament House during the Super Rugby television commercial, which was shown during the official tournament launch. Woods also know how to keep the media happy. When sending media passes to Sydney scribes, he included a beanie for those cold Canberra Stadium nights. Smart move! Marulan truckstop, here I come!

Rumours of the Week

Which Australian Super Rugby administrator is on the nose at his province for driving around in a car made by a rival of the team sponsor, and for applying for various other jobs - including a rugby gig in Asia?

A serial-offending player is in trouble yet again. According to our snouts: "He has already exhausted a season's Get out of Jail cards for two wild binges which led to him being shown the door on two separate occasions at a Bondi nightspot." This will erupt and could derail his Australian province's campaign. The province has been warned.

Quote of the Week

"I personally take the view that if you look at the objectives for 2016 for Australian rugby, I think winning a medal in the men's and women's events [at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro] is right up there as our No.1 priority for that year."

- Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver. A year out from a World Cup tournament? Oh no!


The top ESPNfootytips Super Rugby tipster at the end of the home and away season wins $A2000, with the runner-up claiming $A1000. We also have a pair of Gold Class movie tickets for each weekly winner.

Best of all you and a mate could be heading off to Game II of the Bledisloe Cup series between the Wallabies and the All Blacks in Auckland. The prize includes flight, accommodation, transfers and match tickets. Simply enter your tips WEEKLY to make another entry in the competition.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Join the conversation with Greg on Twitter @GregGrowden

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