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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.

Ruck'n Maul
Australian officials 'regularly MIA' - SANZAR official
Greg Growden
March 7, 2014
Ruck'n MauL: Greg Growden has the best "snouts" in rugby

As the Super Rugby expansion plans get loopier by the minute - with Spain now wanting in - Australia's Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA) is thankfully providing common sense on the issue.

While numerous SANZAR officials push for more teams from 2016, RUPA has commissioned two management consultants - Dr Michael Crawford and Global Media and Sport - to provide a strategic review of Australian rugby structures. And the message RUPA is receiving is that less is best. That's why RUPA is endorsing a two-conference Super Rugby competition, or even just a 10-team trans-Tasman tournament. Such a development would effectively improve player welfare, with one of the main complaints about Super Rugby being the travel involved in getting to South Africa and back.

RUPA opted for the strategic review in a bid to make the five Australian provinces and the Wallabies "competitive and commercially viable". The review suggests that South African sides should play Australian and New Zealand teams only at Super Rugby finals time, thus enabling the republic to pursue its dream of having as many teams as possible in Super Rugby - competing in their own conference alongside Argentina.

Australian Rugby Union (ARU) officials argue their New Zealand counterparts are not interested in the two-conference system, but there is a strong push for Australian officials to be more militant.

ARU officials say they agree with RUPA's concerns about extensive travel and the logic of playing matches in similar time zones. But there is a deep concern at provincial level that the ARU officials in recent times have "lacked authority" when negotiating with New Zealand and South Africa, and a belief it is time to show "more backbone" when pushing Australian causes. As one SANZAR official told Ruck'n Maul this week: "Australian officials are regularly MIA [missing in action]."

Izzy back in Roosters sights (remember SBW leaves this year)

The Waratahs and the Wallabies should never feel confident they have secured their biggest name for a lengthy period of time. The Sydney Roosters NRL club is again sniffing around Israel Folau, and once more confusion over certain third-party money is expected to become an issue. And it's not hard for Roosters officials to continually bump into Folau. Their offices are right next door to the Waratahs'.

NRC doubts intensify after competition architect quits commission

There are intensifying doubts whether the third-tier National Rugby Championship (NRC) will go ahead this year, with authoritative rugby heads in clubland telling all and sundry that it should be delayed for at least a year so it can be properly organised. But ARU chief executive Bill Pulver remains the NRC's chief promoter, pushing relentlessly for an August start. It's worth noting, too, that RUPA boss and key competition architect Greg Harris last week resigned from the commission overseeing the establishment of the championship. Queensland, meanwhile, has gone extremely cold on proposed centralisation plans. And that follows Melbourne Rebels going ballistic about the eastern-seaboard powerhouse. Certain ARU officials are starting to feel very isolated.

Parramatta Stadium already booked for NRC finals?

While on the NRC, we've been told of two interesting bids - one from South Australia, which includes Northern Territory involvement, and another from the New South Wales Country region, which has very strong Sydney school links. And what's this about Parramatta Stadium already being booked for NRC finals matches? What year? That remains a mystery.

'What's that shadow at Bill Pulver's door?

A man bearing an uncanny resemblance to former ARU boss John O'Neill was sighted walking into union headquarters on Thursday. Stay tuned.

'Too stressful': Official upset by Waratahs atmosphere

Our Waratahs snouts are still buzzing over a heated clash between coaching and administrative staff at Moore Park HQ a few days ago. Let's just say it involves an inappropriate selection inquiry about the son of a high-ranking Australian official. No wonder the coaching staff member was livid, and let his feelings be known. The provincial official fled, later explaining the environment was "too stressful".

Rumours of the Week

- Is former Brumbies chief executive Andrew Fagan, who has just joined the ARU, destined for a rapid rise in the organisation?

- A former Australian provincial assistant coach is complaining about being dumped this year. He was sighted a few days ago, accompanied by the province's CEO, moaning to a member of the press about "workload, travel… everything". There will be fireworks, as the head coach is aware of the CEO's involvement in the meeting.

- Queensland, the only Australian province with a buoyant balance book, appears to be losing faith with head office. One Reds official told his ARU counterpart this week to "turn around and think again".

- Which ARU official has been tagged "Virgil", as in Thunderbirds character Virgil Tracy - as in a puppet?

Quote of the Week

"There's no real negatives out of the performance, apart from the fact that we lost,"

- Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph

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

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