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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
Jonny Wilkinson heading to the NRC?
Greg Growden
June 6, 2014
Adam Ashley-Cooper and Michael Hooper are critical to the Wallabies as the captain won't be on the field at the death

Jonny Wilkinson to play in the National Rugby Championship? Sounds far fetched? Not according to officials at one cashed-up club eager to impress colleagues before the scheduled start of the competition in late August. England's Rugby World Cup-winning pivot recently announced his retirement after he, Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell this year made Toulon the powerhouse of European rugby, but officials at one New South Wales club are letting it be known they are Desperately Seeking Jonny. Ruck'n Maul has been told the club is making an audacious bid to Wilkinson, which revolves around a six-match stint in Australia for an attractive six-figure amount. The NRC club, eager to "make a big hit in the opening season", will get plenty of value out of Wilkinson if they can immediately coax him out of retirement as he will certainly attract a crowd. As one NRC source said: "Negotiations have not yet stalled … so watch this space."

Will Jonny Wilkinson really entertain the thought of playing in the National Rugby Championship? © Getty Images
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Brian Smith and James O'Connor to feature in package deal?

The pressure on Queensland Reds eased somewhat after they defeated the Highlanders last weekend, but Ruck'n Maul snouts say beleaguered coach Richard Graham should not yet feel comfortable. The name of former Wallabies five-eighth and now London Irish director of rugby Brian Smith has again bobbed up as the favoured replacement. There are claims of a Reds package deal involving James O'Connor, who played for London Irish this year. We've heard that Smith's name was also connected for some time with Australia's Sevens coaching position, which instead went to Welshman Geraint John. Ruck'n Maul has been told that Smith had some very influential people strongly pushing his case to the Australian Rugby Union, which is why John's appointment did not go down well in certain sections of Sydney and Brisbane.

Tom English and Mitch Inman looking to leave Rebels

Melbourne Rebels appear to be a far happier outfit than last year. But after we revealed on the Ruck' Maul video last week that fullback Jason Woodward wanted to return to New Zealand, there are now strong suggestions the Rebels may struggle to hold on to two other backline players - Tom English and Mitch Inman. We hear constantly that Rebels players are underwhelmed by the behaviour of one domineering official, prompting several to look elsewhere.

Waratahs praised for social engagement and conduct

Waratahs have a look of champions
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The relationship between high-ranking South African and Australian officials remains fractious. Basically, South African powerbrokers don't rate their Australian counterparts, and this has led to problems at SANZAR level after several recent information leaks. So there was some surprise when a South African Rugby Union powerbroker told an ARU official that he had to applaud New South Wales Waratahs coach Michael Cheika and his team for "their social engagement and conduct" during their recent tour of the Republic. Remember this was the trip on which Cheika got into trouble with SANZAR over a sideline incident during the Sharks match in Durban. Insiders have also assured Ruck'n Maul that the SANZAR disciplinary issue, in which Cheika was slapped with a six-month suspended sentence for admitting to abusing a sideline TV cameraman, is far from finished. Serious concerns have been raised about the hearing and how the decision was handed down. Australian officials are also under instruction to dramatically improve relations with SANZAR, the IRB and the broadcasters. Good luck!

The best Australian lock is ...

Who is the best Australian second rower-running around, according to one of his team-mates? Clue: he's not in the Wallabies squad.

Kane Douglas is among the exodus of players and coaches leaving Australia, and he will be missed. Douglas is off to Leinster, in Ireland, while the North Harbour Rays NRC club is looking for a new coach after Phil Blake joined Leicester Tigers.

Best of times and worst of times in New Plymouth

New Plymouth, where the Waratahs enjoyed their best Super Rugby victory of the season when beating the Chiefs last Saturday, has special memories for numerous Australian players. On the same ground, the Wallabies played one of their strangest tour matches of all time. Ewen McKenzie and Greg Martin are two who will never forget it. In 1990, the Wallabies faced Taranaki in horrendous conditions featuring torrential storms, arctic winds and the occasional sleet attack. Visibility was so bad that McKenzie tackled his captain, Nick Farr-Jones, believing he was an opponent. Up on the hill, in the ABC radio box, Martin, who was not playing that day, made his debut as a commentator. The conditions could not have been more difficult. Several drunks stood in front of the box, then the glass fogged up, making it virtually impossible for the ABC team to call the game. Then a gust of wind picked up the television tower and deposited it on top of the radio box, locking the commentators in. There were bangs and crashes, but the commentary team, led by Peter Longman, continued the live call back to Australia, even if the only person he could distinguish in the opposition was the tall Taranaki back-rower Hank Schrader. According to the radio call, Schrader had a blinder. Reality was that Schrader was the only player the commentators could see above the heads of all the drunks, who had refused to move and by the second half had progressed to fortified wines to keep warm. And you try telling the young people today that … they won't believe ya.

Whispers of the Week

- Which new Wallabies selection has the nickname "Caboose"? And who is the ARU official who now has the tag "Whistler" after the Canadian resort.

- The father of one Wallabies squad member is way offside with his son's team. Team-mates of the player say the father makes out he is very relaxed but he is instead an "overbearing nightmare". So much so that the franchise's coach calls him "The Pest".

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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