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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
Brumbies and Tahs set for round 17
Greg Growden
March 21, 2014
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick bring you the latest Australian rugby gossip

The Brumbies won the Battle of Canberra, but don't be bluffed into believing their stoush with New South Wales Waratahs over the Dublin dobbing affair has died down. Instead, it remains heated and ugly. Numerous Waratahs are still seething at their Brumbies counterparts, and the relationship between supposedly close Test team-mates remains fragile; indeed, two men who have combined regularly at Test level have had a major falling out. In other areas, there is intense animosity - as indicated by the harsh remarks made by one Waratahs forward to a high-ranking Brumbies player after the Canberra match. The Waratahs player vowed revenge when they next played each other in Sydney, telling his Brumbies rival in very pointed language what he wanted to do to him when they met again on June 28. Australian Rugby Union denials that certain players were to blame for division within the Wallabies during the 2013 European tour only infuriated numerous squad members further.

The Waratahs are 'Izzy or No-One'

The Major League Baseball season opener involving the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks this weekend is the biggest sporting event to hit Sydney for some time. And there was a smart PR exercise involving Dodgers and Diamondbacks stars photographed at Sydney Cricket Ground with Sydney Swans' Adam Goodes, Sydney FC's Alessandro Del Piero and Sydney Roosters' Sonny Bill Williams. According to our baseball snouts, a Waratahs player was also supposed to be involved in the photo-shoot. But it didn't happen. A major PR opportunity lost.


Be a part of MLB history: buy tickets to watch the season-opening series between LA Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks st Sydney Cricket Ground from the ESPN Fandeck through Ticketek, or watch Game 1 on Saturday March 22, from 7pm (EDT), and Game 2 on Sunday March 23, from 1pm (EDT), Live and in High Definition on ESPN.


MIA, IRB calling MIA of the ARU …

Since John O'Neill's recent decision to resign as a Rugby World Cup director, there has been a push for Australian Rugby Union chairman Michael Hawker to become a RWC bigwig. But Hawker has stiff opposition from Steve Tew, with the New Zealand Rugby chief executive expected to come out on top in that battle. Kiwis appear to be winning the trans-Tasman rugby battle everywhere. It was also a case of "Spot the Aussie, any Aussie" at International Rugby Board discussions last week about the international season. Did I hear someone utter again the initials "MIA"?

Australian rugby is in a state of paranoia

Dwindling crowds are causing deep frowns in Waratahland, with New South Wales officials saying to each other now that the Waratahs have to average 24,000 per home game for the rest of the season just to break even. As ANZ Stadium has advanced its payments, the purse strings will only become tighter and tighter at Moore Park. There are also edgy figures wandering around the corridors of the ARU, due to junior competitions being targeted, a situation that has deeply upset some. Adding to the strange scene is the fact that senior ARU figures are suddenly complaining about "harassment". ARU staff members also have been warned of the dangers of "leaking details to unhelpful members of the media". Meanwhile, one Australian province is desperately trying to stop delicate information going public, to the extent that folk are checking players' phone calls, emails and text messages. Paranoia reigns supreme.

When men were men, and All Blacks were 'mad dogs'

During the week, there were timely reminders of the time when men could be men on the rugby field. New Zealand scribe Richard Knowler provided a telling tale about Stan 'Tiny' Hill, including why the former All Blacks hardman was dropped during the famous 1956 Test series against the Springboks. After the All Blacks won the first Test, Canterbury played the visitors in Christchurch. During that game, Hill was involved in an incident with opposing prop Chris Koch. After a lineout, Hill landed awkwardly, falling on top of a startled Koch. Believing Hill was being over-aggressive, Koch punched him on the jaw.

"At the next lineout I said to Bob Duff to move up to No 2 in the lineout, and he said 'What are you on about?'," Hill recalled. "I said, 'just do it', and when the ball went in I turned to Chris Koch and, whack, whack, I let him have a few. The South Africans immediately all stood around and started yelling. Not Koch. He was on the ground."

Hill discovered later this was probably the reason he was dropped for the Second Test. A national selector had been observing his every move through binoculars, and was unimpressed. But Hill wasn't sidelined for long, returning for the third and fourth Tests.

The death of Frank Oliver last weekend reminded New Zealand rugby historian Phil Gifford of the former New Zealand captain's famous mini-speech before the 1978 Wallabies-All Blacks Test in Christchurch. Oliver was seething that the Wallabies went aggressive in the first Test in Wellington and the All Blacks, under strict orders from coach Jack Gleeson, did not retaliate. In the dressing rooms before the second Test, Oliver gathered the forwards around him and said: "Right, I've had a talk to Jack … I'm slipping the leash on you boys." That fired up the All Blacks, who then belted the Wallabies 22-6. As Wallabies forward Greg Cornelsen later said: "They came at us like mad dogs."

The Bulls' Pollock: Lost in Translation

The latest wacky South African moment involves Bulls Flip van der Merwe and Callie Visagie trying to speak to New Zealand referee Chris Pollock in Afrikaans. Referees often look confused, but never as much as Pollock as he tried to work out what exactly the Bulls were talking about.

Rumours of the Week

- As revealed in Ruck'n Maul several weeks ago, Magners was on Monday announced as the major sponsor of the Sydney club rugby scene. What wasn't announced was the fact the sponsorship could have been five times bigger if an ever-bumbling New South Wales official had not botched negotiations with a major organisation that was keen to be involved.

- Queensland Reds will be worth watching in coming weeks, if they aren't already. There has been serious fallout between a leading player and a team official. Another senior player is acting as peacemaker. He has a tough job.

- Who is the Australian provincial coach suddenly asking for a $50,000 salary increase, effective immediately. Is success going to his head?

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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