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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
Australia must force change on SANZAR partners
Greg Growden
March 28, 2014
Quade Cooper is fighting with Queensland Reds management, with James Horwill making the peace

Several interesting discussion papers are floating around the provinces, providing ideas on how to stop Australian rugby from "going over the financial precipice".

The paper causing most interest was written on request by one of Australia's leading sports management consultants, and it has been sighted by numerous Australian rugby bodies including senior players involved with the Rugby Union Players Association; it poo-poos several recent SANZAR decisions that were supported by Australia. The paper, written last month, fell off the back of a truck in front of the Ruck'n Maul bunker this week. This analysis of "Australian rugby's real challenge", stresses: "No code can sustain itself and retain a large group of internationally competitive players if it employs them in a serious revenue-generating competition for only half the year- and even more so if that competition is structured to contain a lot of dud product, which is currently the case with Super Rugby from an Australian perspective."

"Dealing with this issue requires a dramatic shift in the regular competition structure, not a few fiddles trying to pick up a few million here or there while carving more resources out of the game."

The paper makes the point that people who agreed to South Africa having six Super Rugby teams, and Argentina included in the competition, "weren't looking after the interests of Australian rugby".

Referring to reports that the consolidated annual loss for Super Rugby in Australia is about $A15 million per annum, the paper says: "Picking up another few million in a revised broadcast agreement is not going to change the situation in any material way. And trying to pull it out of expenses by depressing player income or cutting out an Australian Super Rugby team is going to lose more talent and more audience, and thus more revenue.

"Unless New Zealand or South Africa are prepared to seriously rebalance the distribution of Super Rugby revenue … or the [International Rugby Board] is willing to tip in the requisite amount, then Australia needs a dramatically changed competition structure geared to providing the volume of product, which is attractive to Australian audiences, to generate the necessary revenue."

The paper, which also delves into community rugby, player salaries and pathways, concludes: "The inescapable strategic issue is the absence, under the current and proposed Super Rugby competition structure, of sufficient locally attractive matches to generate the revenue needed to pay for Australian Super Rugby teams. Either the management of Australian rugby has the courage to face up to that reality and force change with its SANZAR partners, or it will continue over the precipice it has now reached."

Australian official facing investigation

A high-ranking Australian official is facing investigation over overseas share transactions. This will become a major issue.

Rob Egerton will not continue as Wallabies team manager

Was that former Australian Rugby Union (ARU) heavy Matt Carroll sighted in conversation with current union chief executive Bill Pulver last week? This comes just weeks after Pulver and his predecessor, John O'Neill, had a meeting at ARU HQ in St Leonards. And as revealed in Ruck'n Maul last month, the ARU has now confirmed there will be major Wallabies administration changes this year - with Rob Egerton not continuing as team manager. Expect Ewen McKenzie and a union sidekick to have a far bigger off-field role this year.

Stars may yet claim Israel Folau

Scrum5: Reds partially to blame for downfall
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It will be interesting to see if the ARU sticks to its promise of allowing Israel Folau to be a marquee player for the Greater Sydney Rams during the National Rugby Championship. As reported on ESPNscrum last month, a union official gave his word to the Rams, who are based in western Sydney, that they could use Folau as he hails from that area. But Sydney Stars, who involve Folau's club, Sydney University, are not happy with that prospect. And Uni do have a lot of power in the Sydney club ranks.

Also some interesting comments this week from former New South Wales Rugby Union board member Alan Williamson, who was heavily involved the last time an Australian Rugby Championship was held - in 2007 for just one season. Williamson told Ruck'n Maul: "Whilst my former club [Eastern Suburbs], including me personally, were against the competition structure, I then progressed to chair all clubs who voted in favour of it. I was sad to see it fail, despite the best efforts of all concerned. Sad but not surprised. I would be both sad and surprised if anyone wishes or allows it to fail this time because clearly much debate and thought has been entered into, and right now, rugby needs only good news."

ARU official may face defamation proceedings

It is high time a notable ARU official brushed up on the defamation laws. For some time, he has been slagging off members of the local rugby media. Several who have had the misfortune of hearing these libelous tirades are sick of his unacceptable slurs, and action is imminent.

Rumours of the Week

- The National Rugby Championship is a very emotional issue, which has led to two highly respected club officials having a serious fallout. The president of one club was appalled to be called a "Judas #$%^" by an official from another.

- A visiting Super Rugby player was lucky to escape a night in the cells after police had to talk to him outside an Oxford Street nightclub in Sydney last weekend, following complaints about his intoxicated behavior. He was disorientated, and in tears.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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