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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
Waratahs cannot match cost of Super Rugby success
Greg Growden
July 11, 2014
Ruck'n Maul: The Australian Rugby Union can't match overseas markets

The concerted push by the Waratahs towards their first Super Rugby title has revitalised New South Wales rugby ranks, but there has been a downside. Waratahs are now being pursued by anyone and everyone with deep pockets, and they are in danger of losing numerous key team members. Kane Douglas is heading north, the Bulls have actively pursued Jacques Potgieter, and French clubs continue to do whatever they can to lure Israel Folau. High-ranking Waratahs sources have told Ruck'n Maul that Toulon keep "offering more and more money" to Folau, and there have been mumblings of an extraordinary three-year deal, worth well over $A1 million per season, that would make him easily the best-paid rugby player in the world. It will take enormous persuasion by both the Waratahs and the Australian Rugby Union to convince Folau to stay here.

The future of Kurtley Beale and the Waratahs is also uncertain. Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is another being pursued from overseas, with Toulon among those to show interest, and that has prompted contract renegotiations with NSW to be fast-tracked. Toulon, in particular, are said to be offering a deal far more lucrative than the Tahs can afford, but it is understood that Cheika can be persuaded to remain at Moore Park with the proviso that a Waratahs official at head office is moved on.

Loyalty running thin north of the Tweed

Queensland boast the most loyal 'past players' group in the country, but even that has started to fray during this grim season in which the Reds have fallen away. Now notable former Reds players, led by Stan Pilecki, are taking pot-shots, claiming the current team lacked "pride in the jersey" against Western Force. It's not hard to see why the Reds moaning has commenced, when you consider that just two years everything was so different.

Cheika warns Tahs of finals furnace (Australia only)
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In July 2012, the Waratahs were an absolute mess in what ended up being their worst Super Rugby season - having lost eight matches in a row, and having even been booed by their own supporters during one home game. The Reds meanwhile made the finals by winning the Australian conference. The Reds admittedly were not of the same calibre as their 2011 line-up which won the title, but they were still formidable and continued to win over the local fans with an aggressive and adventurous brand of football.

The transformation just amplifies the fact that the Waratahs two years ago took the right approach in trying to improve their "culture". That involved managerial changes, some radical - including the luring of the confrontational Cheika.

Now the pressure is on the Reds to do something similar. No wonder the Reds are treating Saturday night's game as their grand final. Win, and Reds membership sales for next season should be solid. Lose, and the ARU faces another provincial problem.

More redundancies …

The belt tightening continues at the ARU. We've been told that several more notable staff members have been let go in recent weeks. These included some who boasted years and year of intense rugby knowledge. They will be missed.

… but the ARU deserves praise for Liam Gill decision

Super Rugby Preview: Round 19
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The ARU deserves praise for releasing Liam Gill from Australia's Commonwealth Games Sevens team to play for the Reds against the Waratahs. It was assumed that Gill would not be sighted in the Super Rugby ranks again this year after being selected in the national sevens squad. But the new Australian Sevens coach, Geraint John, has done the right thing after Reds coach Richard Graham sought a temporary release. This will enable Gill to receive his 50th Queensland cap and, as he has been picked on the bench, the chance sometime in the game to tussle with his long-time No.7 opponent, Michael Hooper. The best players should be involved in the big interstate battles, and that will happen with Gill back as part of the Reds contingent.

A big question about the 2015 National Rugby Championship

Gradually details of the upcoming National Rugby Championship have started to emerge, but numerous participants remain concerned about the lack of information flow about a tournament that starts in less than two months. This issue was raised at a recent meeting of the Sydney clubs, with officials saying they were now relying on reports on rugby internet websites to find out what was going on with the NRC. And an interesting question was raised at that meeting: as next season is a World Cup year, will the NRC be played - especially as there is bound to be a clash of dates? If we hear anything, we'll let you know.

Stop Press: Yes it will be worth following the internet for NRC updates, because the ARU on Thursday sent out media accreditation forms for the tournament. So something is actually happening.

Whispers of the Week

- Which Wallabies player demanded payment if his photograph were used for a magazine story? Thankfully the magazine ignored the request.

- Who is the former official who can see himself back in power at the Waratahs if a certain private equity bid succeeds? He even told a Waratahs staff member last weekend that "you are keeping my seat warm". No wonder the ARU are jittery.

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