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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
Wallabies to become victims of ARU cost cutting
Greg Growden
February 28, 2014
Ruck'n Maul: can the Australian Rugby Union afford to keep Israel Folau?

The dramatic cost cutting continues at the Australian Rugby Union (ARU), and it's about to hit the Wallabies' ranks. An ARU insider has told Ruck'n Maul that, due to the financial squeeze, the number of Wallabies going away on the end-of-season European tour will be cut. Rather than the usual 32 players heading off for the November Tests, Wallabies coach Ewan McKenzie will have to make do with just 28. There is even uncertainty whether there will actually be a Wallabies team manager this year. The mail suggests instead that several other officials will be taking over - or even sharing - this onerous task. There's bound to be fun and games if the Wallabies suddenly have a spate of injuries on tour, and / or if there are off-field dramas, as both scenarios require the full attention of an experienced team manager. Then again, so much intellectual property has left the ARU in recent months. The latest is widely admired national men's Sevens coach Michael O'Connor, who was the master of finding young, flourishing talent. So many well-known Wallabies were first sighted and encouraged by O'Connor. He is an enormous loss. One name that has bobbed up as a possible replacement is Bill Millard.

Shute Shield sponsorship to fall short

The cost cutting has seriously hit the Sydney grade scene. Expect an announcement soon that Magners, who have become one of the Waratahs sponsors, will also be the main sponsor of the Shute Shield competition. Our club snouts tell us that the club sponsorship will be worth $50,000. Great! Except those involved in running the club competition were recently big-noting themselves about how they would be able to get at least $250,000 for the Shute Shield main sponsorship. Only a trifling $200,000 short!

Michael Foley sure to come under increasing pressure

Greg Growden's team-by-team preview

© SANZAR (Image Supplied)

The pressure is certainly on Western Force coach Michael Foley to get his under-performing team to do something this year. There was a fascinating story in the Perth press several days ago, which emphasised that Force hierarchy have a team target of eight wins this season. Eight wins? Judging from their one-dimensional, rolling maul-obsessed performance against the Waratahs last Sunday, that is a bridge too far. There will be changes at the OK Corral if, as expected, they fall well short of eight wins.

Waratahs failing numbers game

Have a close look at the 16,091-crowd figure the Waratahs provided a day after the Force match. Upside down, reverse it: it's the same figure. Hamm. The spinmeisters stated it was a reasonable crowd figure; it wasn't. First round. The Waratahs playing entertaining football. Sunday afternoon. And they can only get 16,000. A very worrying sign - as is the fact the Waratahs released the crowd figure a day late only because media identities pestered them for the number. What have they got to hide? Maybe just an upside down-reverse it figure.

Are the Brumbies hanging dogs?

The body language from the Brumbies during their loss to the Reds wasn't encouraging. We keep hearing there are serious dramas within the team, and one leading Brumbies player is being isolated by team-mates. They are very wary of him. There have also been some interesting off-field temper tantrums … and players thought former coach Jake White could be abrupt at times. At another Australian province, pre-season form and confidence has been overshadowed by the antics of one of their often-aggressive officials, who is obsessed with photo opportunities.

Hooray for Hoiles

The most rousing moment of the first Australian Super Rugby round was the return of Stephen Hoiles in a Waratahs jersey. The 32-year-old Hoiles, who not that long ago was the Brumbies captain, has shown great courage to return to the Super Rugby ranks after suffering several tough injuries. He even travelled to Sweden to undergo surgery on his damaged Achilles tendon. Waratahs management is delighted by Hoiles' determination to resurrect his Super Rugby career, and they cited his leadership and commitment one of the highlights of their off-season. Hoiles is one of the most liked players in Australia's Super Rugby ranks, and he will be remembered no matter what for one of the greatest practical jokes in Waratahs history: let's just say it was about a decade ago, involved team-mate Shaun Berne, a photo-shoot and a teddy bear. Berne's get-square was as memorable.

Rumours of the Week

Fun and games at one Sydney premiership club. We hear the club caterers are about to sue them.

Sydney Swans AFL recruit Buddy Franklin continues to be sighted carousing with certain Waratahs. There will be drama.

The NRL launch this week, where they carried on as if they were about to take over the world, and would wipe rugby union away, apparently shook up certain ARU officials. One ARU heavy reacted so badly that he was sighted handing his keys to a staffer in the afternoon at the Cabana bar, which is situated almost opposite the union's Sydney headquarters.

Some promising Academy players were up to no good on a long flight last week.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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