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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
Please let's now select overseas-based Wallabies
Greg Growden
August 29, 2014
Ruck'n Maul: All Blacks just in a different league

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) had no option but to relax its playing contracting protocol in a bid to stop its best talent heading overseas permanently. The threat of so many key players leaving after the Rugby World Cup, or even in World Cup year, forced the board to face reality and introduce 'flexible contracts' for a select number of players. Not before time. The ARU's obsession with Sevens football was amplified by allowing those representing Australia at the 2016 Olympic Games the ability to play in Japan. Now how long will it take before the ARU ends its policy whereby only those playing in Australia at the time are eligible for the Wallabies? At least there is now the opportunity to select players at "different points of the year".

Pat McCabe courageous, humble and admirable

Pat McCabe retires
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Adding to the distress over the Wallabies' abominable performance in Auckland was is the fact it is Pat McCabe's last match. McCabe, forced to retire after breaking his neck for the third time in less than two years, was one of the most courageous, humble and admirable Wallabies this columnist has met. Let's hope McCabe remains in the game in some off-field capacity because he is one of the game's best ambassadors. What McCabe said when he retired this week rings true. "I was never the biggest, strongest or fastest in any team I played ... I just worked hard and got the most out of my limited potential. I walk away knowing I did the best I possibly could."

One good thing in Auckland (from a Wallabies viewpoint)

There was one consolation from the abominable Wallabies defeat in Auckland: was at least we didn't see the hideous box kick. Thankfully Nic White didn't get the chance. Maybe before the Test, he heard the Rugga Matrix interview with Dave Dennis in which the Waratahs captain explained that he was among the many folk who couldn't see much point to it. Asked if he wanted to join a campaign to Ban the Box Kick, Dennis said: "I'm not a massive fan of [the box kick], to be honest."

"This whole year we never used it at all," Dennis said. "So maybe that's given away our secret. At the Waratahs, the box kick wasn't part of our weaponry. It is one of those skills, which if done really well, is great. But there's so much room for error, and there's so much pressure coming from the defence it can go wrong quite quickly. It's used to try and get out of your own territory easily. But you can put your side under a lot of pressure if you don't execute it right. I'd like to think you could have a similar mindset at Test level and not use it, but teams have different tactics. It's a matter of using it at the right time, and I think we probably used it too much [during the first Bledisloe Cup Test]."

Cheik-mate at the Waratahs

Michael Cheika's re-negotiations with the Waratahs grind on. While some interesting administerial changes have occurred, there is still concern among the playing/coaching group that head office is receiving more praise than is warranted for the Super Rugby title triumph, when officials were instead an obstruction. The latest rumours have Cheika seriously considering seeing out his contract then, due to his lack of confidence in several Waratahs officials, then moving on.

Legends of the media game

It was pleasing to see a healthy rugby union representation when the Sydney Cricket Ground Media Hall of Honour was opened this week. The 15 original inductees included Norman May of ABC television fame, who was the commentator for the first live telecast of an Australian rugby match. On April 6, 1957, May and Mick Cremin called the Gordon-Manly reserve-grade game from Chatswood Oval. Mr 'Gold, Gold, Gold' went on to commentate more than 600 rugby matches for the ABC. Jack Fingleton is best known for his cricket writing and playing skills but he was an enthusiastic rugby follower, while Jim Shepherd edited the Australian Rugby Yearbook for several years. Ian Heads, among his many books, was heavily involved in Matt Burke's autobiography. And J.C Davis's long-time editing of the famed Referee sports newspaper ensured that rugby was covered comprehensively for many decades before World War II.

How good was Ken Catchpole? © PA Photos
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Now this is an Australian team …

While on the great Norman May, Ruck'n Maul interviewed him a few years ago and asked him to pick a team of the best Australian players he had seen. The May XV is worth repeating.

15. Roger Gould; 14. David Campese, 13. Stirling Mortlock, 12. Tim Horan, 11. Brendan Moon; 10. Mark Ella, 9. Ken Catchpole; 8. Mark Loane, 7. Willie Ofahengaue, 6. Jules Guerassimoff; 5. John Eales, 4. Steve Cutler or Rob Heming; 3. Ewen McKenzie, 2. Phil Kearns, 1. Jon White.

And the best player he had seen?

"Easy ... Catchpole."

Where's Will?

The Waratahs picked the right man in Michael Hooper to win their Player's Player of the Year award, as he was their standout performer. But not everyone was delighted about the night. Apparently some diligent workers in Waratahland missed an invite to the function, and it did not go unnoticed. Several notable officials also really hit the turps. Another conversation point was that Will Skelton failed to finish in the top ten vote-getters; Skelton had a fair season, and his partnership with Jacques Potgieter was crucial in the Waratahs winning the title.

Nick Cummins Honey Budger photo
Nick Cummins: lost in translation? © Getty Images
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Konichiwa, Budger-san

The Japanese are clearly struggling to comprehend Nick Cummins. The headline on a Japanese magazine profile last week read "G'day Honey Budger".

Whispers of the Week

- Sniping continues between Wallabies squad members. One player on the outer is not impressed with the meteoric rise of another. And the hangover from the Ireland drink-a-thon on the end-of-year Wallabies tour remains an issue.

- A major announcement on the future Waratahs owner is imminent.

- Raised eyebrows at the ARU over a strange and somewhat revealing personal message from an agitated staff member.

- Who is the Naional Rugby Championship media identity appearing in newspaper ads for a yoga studio? Well, we hope it is a yoga studio. Close colleagues have noticed he has been smelling lately of eucalyptus oil, and wandering the streets with his socks tucked into his pants.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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