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Thread: Zero scrum game: is it too late to save rugby union?

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    Zero scrum game: is it too late to save rugby union?

    From the SMH here

    Lauded by fans as “the game they play in heaven”, rugby union has gone to hell in a handbasket, beset for two decades by infighting, financial crises, declining audiences and fierce competition from the AFL and NRL. Can a new CEO and free-to-air TV deal get it kicking again?

    By Tim Elliott

    APRIL 1, 2021

    It’s a balmy evening in January, and the Pearl Ballroom at Sydney’s Crown Towers is looking its finest, with its theatre-style curtains and platinum-coloured wall panelling, its floating chandeliers and mirrored ceiling. Chef Guillaume Brahimi has outdone himself, dishing up a tartare of yellowfin tuna for entrée followed by minute steak with Cafe de Paris butter. There is pinot gris, shiraz and chardonnay, and here to enjoy it, the premier cru of Australian rugby union’s gilded past: David Campese, John Eales and Nick Farr-Jones; the fridge-like Phil Kearns, Gary Ella and even Eric Tweedale, who, at the age of 99, is the oldest living Wallaby. They’re all here, the great and good of “the game they play in heaven”, grazing at the table like buffalo at a watering hole. It’s a rugby Valhalla, with pistachio gateau for dessert.

    Tonight’s event has been organised by Rugby Australia, the game’s governing body, with the express purpose of picking a permanent colour for the national jersey. The national team, the Wallabies, have traditionally worn gold, but over the decades that gold has morphed like a lava lamp from the warm ochre of the 1980s to a burnt orange and even, most recently, a traffic-stopping yellow.

    “A picture says a thousand words,” Hamish McLennan, RA’s chairman, told the media in the lead-up to the event. “It [the constant colour changes] shows the madness of our inconsistency.”

    Tall and urbane, with thick, dark hair, McLennan, who took over the role in June 2020, radiates charm and capability, with the casual confidence of a man who enters a job interview with another offer in his back pocket. He’s positioned tonight’s event as an exercise in unity and esprit de corps, a way of honouring history while building for the future. “We need to decide,” he tells me. “The symbolism is important.”

    The fans have already spoken: in an online poll conducted by The Sydney Morning Herald, most popular among the 13,300 votes cast was the jersey worn by the Wallabies in 1991, the year Australia won its first Rugby World Cup. McLennan has said the poll result will have a bearing on tonight. “After all, the fans own the jersey.”

    Soon, the voting begins. There are eight jerseys to choose from. As each one is presented to the room, there’s a show of hands and the numbers noted. Another jersey, more hands, more numbers. A certain dissonance arises: we’re told to forget nostalgia and think about the future, but nostalgia is built into the process. Indeed, for Australian rugby fans, traumatised by decades of defeat, nostalgia is all they have left.

    In the end, after several rounds of increasingly raucous voting, of good-natured heckling and faux outrage, the number of jerseys has been whittled down, from eight to six to four to two, and finally, the winner, as duly presaged, the 1991 World Cup-winning design.

    Most agree it’s a victory for good taste and sound judgment. But it is also, inevitably, a victory for nostalgia. Once again, to everyone’s relief, Australian rugby is going back to the future.

    It’s hard to imagine now, but once upon a time Australians were very good at playing rugby union. The Wallabies won World Cups in 1991 and 1999. In 2000, they retained the Bledisloe Cup against the New Zealand All Blacks for the third year running, and took out the Tri Nations Series, beating the All Blacks and the Springboks, the national team of South Africa. The NSW Waratahs ranked alongside the AFL’s Collingwood and the NRL’s Brisbane Broncos as one of the country’s most recognised sporting brands.

    The game brought in big money and colossal crowds: more than 109,000 packed in to Sydney’s Stadium Australia in 2000 to watch the Wallabies and the All Blacks play what has been described as “the greatest ever rugby match”. In 2001, the Wallabies won a three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions. Two years later, when Australia hosted the World Cup, rugby was, for perhaps the first time in its history, a mainstream sport in which the broad mass of Australians were emotionally invested.

    The period since then has been a waking nightmare for Australian rugby. The Wallabies have slumped from second in the world to seventh. We haven’t won a Bledisloe Cup since 2002. Crowds and TV audiences have plummeted. There have been intermittent victories over the All Blacks and others; Australia even made the World Cup final in 2015. But such victories have invariably been followed by humiliating defeats, a pattern of false dawns that has bred within the rugby community a culture of scepticism and apathy.

    “Rugby is on the bones of its arse right now ... and what you’re left with is a bunch of huge men, who we don’t know, running into one another.”

    Thousands of fans have drifted away to rugby league or Aussie Rules, disillusioned not only with the on-field performances but with the game’s dysfunctional governance. Despite being run by a coterie of investment bankers and private equity chiefs, rugby has lurched from one financial crisis to another, in some cases staving off insolvency with emergency loans.

    “Rugby is on the bones of its arse right now,” says columnist and author Peter FitzSimons. “There used to be a magic and romance to it, and now that magic is gone, and what you’re left with is a bunch of huge men, who we don’t know, running into one another.”

    FitzSimons, 59, appeared in seven Tests for the Wallabies in 1989-90, “when we played for the honour of it,” he says, “and got paid $50 a day.” He embodies a certain amateur-era type; grizzled and voluble, given to self-mythologising, with a face that appears to have been hurriedly chiselled from a block of salt.

    Like many fans, FitzSimons, who infamously started an all-in brawl against France in 1990 at the Sydney Football Stadium, mourns the raw colour of amateur rugby and the figures it produced: Ray Price and David Campese, the dancing Ella brothers and Roger Gould, with quads like bags of concrete; players like Greg Cornelsen, who cowed the All Blacks with four tries at Eden Park in 1978, and Stan Pilecki, who was once interrupted smoking a cigarette when called off the bench for a Wallabies match in Argentina.


    “Rugby has lost its theatre,” says FitzSimons. “There are no characters any more. Now we have 15 professional footballers whom no one can relate to. The key is to know who is representing us again, to care about them, and to see them win.”

    There have, in fact, been some wins of late, albeit off the field. For the past 25 years rugby has been broadcast on Foxtel, majority owned by Rupert Murdoch. When the rights became available in 2020, Foxtel offered $31 million a year, down from an annual $57 million payment since 2015. In November last year, McLennan and interim CEO Rob Clarke declined the offer, signing instead with Nine Entertainment Co. (publisher of Good Weekend), in a deal worth $100 million over three years.


    Streaming service Stan will become the home of Australian rugby under the landmark deal.
    Rugby Australia

    The deal, which starts this year, includes the rights to Wallabies Tests, the women’s game, including the national team, the Wallaroos, and the club schedule. It also covers Super Rugby, a provincial competition which has in the past featured teams from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and Japan. (The competition has since become an Australia-only model, due to COVID-19.)

    Most importantly, the agreement involves a commitment to show a weekly Saturday night Super Rugby game on the Nine Network – the first time the competition has been given a free-to-air platform.

    The Nine deal is widely seen as the last best hope for the code. McLennan tells me it could reactivate “rugby’s latent fan base”, a secret army of followers waiting to emerge from their basements wearing Wallabies scarves and waving gold flags.

    “The problem before was exposure,” says McLennan. “A lot of people didn’t actually see rugby because they couldn’t afford pay TV. Now with free-to-air, suddenly rugby is going to be more front of mind. Kids will see it and they will want to play, and that makes it bigger, and more money will come into the game.”

    “It’s really exciting,” says Stephen Moore, former Wallabies skipper and 129-Test veteran. “[McLennan] is a smart guy and 100 per cent committed to the game being its best.” But Moore acknowledges that rugby’s problems are bigger than a broadcast deal. “The state of the game here is so bad at the moment that it has to be transformed totally. For too long we’ve papered over the problems, and look where that’s got us.”

    In 2017, Rugby Australia moved into a new headquarters, a gleaming, cobalt-blue glass and steel structure in Moore Park, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. There’s a high-performance gym, a 600-square-metre indoor training area and a rooftop running track. From the second-floor boardroom, where I’ve come to meet RA’s new CEO, Andy Marinos, you can see the construction site of the former Sydney Football Stadium, once home to so many of rugby’s mythic victories, and which now, in a metaphor almost too obvious to mention, has been reduced to an enormous crater.

    Marinos, 48, has a close-cropped beard and a torso like a concrete bollard. He played rugby at the provincial level in South Africa, where he grew up, and also for Wales, in the early 2000s (he has Welsh ancestry). He then moved into administration, managing the South African Rugby Union. For the past five years, he’s been based in Sydney as the CEO of SANZAAR, the body that runs Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship, an international competition between Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

    Marinos has arrived at RA at a turbulent time, even by the turbulent standards of Australian rugby. Last year saw the rancourous departure of the then CEO Raelene Castle, a global pandemic and record financial losses. “Rugby has been through a lot,” he says. “But COVID is an inflection point. It gives you the opportunity to restart.”

    One of his immediate priorities is financial stability. “That way we can stop being reactive and start being more strategic about how we’re wanting to do things.” The money from Nine should right the ship in the short term. But repairing the game in the long run and making the Wallabies win again will be infinitely harder.

    “Rugby has been through a lot, but COVID is an inflection point. It gives you the opportunity to restart.”

    “There are so many constituent parts,” says Marinos. “Creating pathways for the players, managing stakeholders, the sponsors, fans and the community game.”

    He believes his outsider status is an advantage. “I’m not caught up in the things that happened [in Australian rugby] in the past,” he says. “I don’t have any preference for a particular state, place or person.” He’s free, then, to begin “rugby’s journey of renewal, one that is about being genuine, authentic and listening to people.”

    I must look sceptical. “It’s a fantastic opportunity!” he says. “But it’s going to take time to fix. And it’s not going to be easy.”

    Almost everyone has a different take on why Australian rugby is broken. Some blame the referees; others blame the rules; it’s AFL’s fault, or rugby league’s. It’s stupid coaches, overpaid players, inept leadership. When I ask Eric Tweedale what he thinks the problem is, he says it all began when the game went professional, which seems as good a place to start as any.

    According to legend, rugby began in 1823, at Rugby School in England. For most of its history, it was staunchly amateur. But successive World Cups, in 1987, 1991 and 1995, saw the game explode in popularity, increasing the demands on players, who insisted on being paid. In 1995, the three most powerful southern hemisphere rugby unions, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, formed a body called SANZAR, to oversee Super Rugby and the Tri Nations. SANZAR approached Rupert Murdoch, who paid $US555 million over 10 years for the rights to broadcast the games on his nascent cable network, Foxtel. Sensing the momentum, the world’s governing body, the International Rugby Board, declared the game professional in 1995.

    Australia’s cut of the broadcast rights was $35 million a year. Despite this, the game’s peak body, then called Australian Rugby Union, remained an amateur outfit, with no fewer than 21 committees overseeing everything from finances to player selection. The committees were run by honoraries, whose positions as such gave them considerable status within the rugby community, not to mention good parking and the best seats at games. When former NSW State Bank chief John O’Neill became CEO of the ARU in 1995, he set about abolishing the committees outright, seeding a bitter antipathy from the honoraries, or the “blazer brigade” as he called them, that would bedevil rugby for years to come.

    O’Neill didn’t want for confidence. (In his 2007 book, It’s Only a Game, he writes of becoming “quite depressed” to discover how “over-qualified” he was for the job.) But there was no doubting his ability. He broadened the game’s appeal, boosted participation, and presided over the hugely successful 2003 World Cup in Australia which left the ARU with a $45 million profit. He also attempted to centralise authority and take power away from the states, particularly NSW and Queensland, whose squabbling had hobbled the game for years. “They didn’t like that,” he tells me. “They thought I was too influential.”

    After the 2003 World Cup, O’Neill still had a year on his contract, and intended to stay until 2007. But his enemies had other ideas. In late 2003, O’Neill, then acknowledged as one of the country’s finest sports administrators, was pushed out. Rugby writer Peter Jenkins wrote that O’Neill’s “only crime was being high-profile, and of daring to challenge his directors”. Australian rugby had begun a long tradition of shooting itself in the foot.

    O’Neill and his deputy Matt Carroll had wanted to put the $45 million World Cup windfall in a trust. “The idea was that it’d be a future fund,” says Carroll, who is now CEO of the Australian Olympic Committee. “If they’d invested that money back then, it’d probably be worth $100 million now and be producing a yearly income for rugby.”

    But they didn’t. Instead, the money was given to the state unions and ploughed into a new competition called the Australian Rugby Championship (ARC), featuring eight teams from around the country. The ARC, which was announced in mid-2006 by then CEO, Gary Flowers, was intended as a pathway from the club system to Super Rugby. But the model was flawed from the outset. The teams had no history and no local followings. It was expensive and attracted almost no sponsorship. It also detracted from the established club scenes in Sydney and Brisbane, angering the game’s grassroots. By the end of the first season, the ARC had lost $4.7 million, with forecast losses of $8 million by the end of 2008.

    At the same time, the ARU was struggling with inflated player salaries. When rugby went professional in 1995, Murdoch had faced competition from rugby league, which had attempted to sign up most of rugby’s best players. At the same time, fellow media mogul Kerry Packer was backing a rival competition called World Rugby Corporation. Players were in demand, and in order to win, Murdoch was forced to pay top dollar. Salaries skyrocketed, and were pushed even higher thanks to competition from cashed-up clubs in the northern hemisphere, some of which had billionaire owners.

    “In comparison to other sports, rugby players were getting a higher proportion of the revenues,” says management consultant Michael Crawford, who has advised the ARU for 20 years. “This left less money for development and created further anger at the community level.”

    Flowers stood down in 2007, opening the way for O’Neill and Carroll to return. They immediately scrapped the ARC. But the performance of the Wallabies, the financial engine of Australian rugby, was going from bad to worse. In 2009, Australia lost four matches to the All Blacks, two to the Springboks, and one to Scotland. Super Rugby was also faltering. The three Australian teams, the ACT Brumbies, the NSW Waratahs and the Queensland Reds, had all at one time or another enjoyed considerable success. In 2006, a fourth Australian team, the Perth-based Western Force, was added to the competition, followed by a fifth team, the Melbourne Rebels, in 2011. The idea was to give the game a national footprint and generate more broadcast dollars.

    But it soon became apparent that Australia didn’t have enough talent to go around. According to a 2017 Senate standing committee report into the future of Australian rugby, the expansion from three to four to five teams saw a step down in performance, from Australian sides winning 60 per cent of their games to 50 per cent to 40 per cent. When the teams began to go broke, their owners – the state unions – ran to the ARU for a handout. By the end of 2011, the national body was funding the Super Rugby outfits to the tune of $25 million a year.

    The obvious answer was private ownership. “In the US and Europe, 90 per cent of professional sporting clubs are privately owned and have strong business models,” says Colin Smith, director of the advisory firm, Global Media and Sports. “And that’s because they focus on the profit motive.”

    “The parochialism and backward thinking are crippling rugby. It’s a self-made destruction.”

    In 2008, Smith was charged by the ARU with getting the state unions to consider private ownership. But according to Smith, “the general reaction [from the states] was, ‘Under no circumstances’.” A board member of one union told Smith that he didn’t want to sell his Super Rugby team because he might miss out on free tickets to the games. “The thinking [was] incredibly myopic,” says Smith. “It just shows a complete lack of understanding of how the business of sports works.”

    Smith has worked in sports for 30 years. There is virtually no market that he has not run the ruler over, no major club that he has not scrutinised. But rugby is special to him. “The first game I attended was in the early ’90s at Twickenham between England and the Barbarians. It was absolutely scintillating, and I was hooked.” But he now despairs for the game in Australia. “The parochialism and backward thinking are crippling rugby. It’s a self-made destruction.”

    Rugby is played in more than 120 countries, with 9.6 million registered players worldwide. Outside Australia, the game is booming: the 2019 Rugby World Cup, held in Japan, drew a total broadcast audience of 857 million over six weeks. (When Japan played Scotland, 54.8 million people in Japan watched it on television, nearly half the population.) Such events showcase the lore and legend of each national team, together with their signature playing styles: the mercurial French, the doughty Scots, the flamboyant Fijians, and the Welsh, whose scrum could push down mountains.

    The Wallabies used to be famous for “running rugby”, a swaggering brand of free-flowing football made famous by the Ella brothers and David Campese, among others. Now, not so much. Indeed, the saddest thing a rugby fan can hear is that the game in Australia has become boring. Observers blame the referees, who have become increasingly pedantic. But the complexity of the rules is also a problem, especially compared to rugby league or AFL.

    For years, rugby administrators have tinkered with the laws to make the game a better spectacle, but it’s a slow process. “Rugby is a global game,” says Brett Robinson, former Wallaby and current member of the World Rugby Council, which oversees laws, regulations and player welfare. “League and AFL are essentially domestic sports. It’s easy for them to make rule changes, but we have to influence over 100 nations to make changes that can be applied across the world and ultimately at a World Cup every four years.”

    Rugby connoisseurs claim the complexity of the game is part of its beauty; that rugby is chess to rugby league’s checkers. But sometimes checkers is all a sports fan has time for. This is especially true in Australia, which has no less than four football codes – league, union, AFL and soccer – all competing for hearts and minds. And in an era when sport has become mass entertainment, being dull is death.

    Rugby connoisseurs claim the complexity of the game is part of its beauty; that rugby is chess to rugby league’s checkers.

    Growing rugby’s fan base is essential. One way of doing that is by winning games; the other is to create new audiences. “To me, the biggest wasted opportunity has been the failure to bring more people outside the narrow culture of rugby into the sport,” says James Curran, a Sydney University history professor who is writing a book about David Campese. “Rugby officialdom hasn’t been able to move beyond those who were supporting the game in the 1970s.”

    Most of rugby’s elite players are still drawn from a small number of private schools in Sydney and Brisbane. The same goes for the game’s leadership, at both national and state levels, an inordinate number of whom come from Sydney’s most exclusive private schools, including Newington, Scots or St Joseph’s. One school in particular, Shore, figures prominently.

    No fewer than eight recent RA and NSWRU office holders are Shore old boys, including current chairman, Hamish McLennan, recently departed CEO Rob Clarke and director Phil Waugh.

    When the ARU went looking for a new CEO in 2012, it conducted what it described as a worldwide search before turning up Shore old boy Bill Pulver, in Sydney’s affluent harbourside suburb of Mosman. (Living, as it happened, right next door to ARU director John Eales). Pulver received a ringing endorsement from then ARU chairman, Michael Hawker, another Shore old boy who had played rugby with Pulver in the school’s First XV some 35 years earlier. “The whole thing is so incestuous,” says Colin Smith. “It’s not good for the game.”

    It also reflects a fundamental disconnect to the game’s grassroots, which attracts a far broader demographic. “Many of our players are scaffolders or concreters,” says Craig Moran, general manager of Western Sydney Two Blues rugby club, in Parramatta. “They’re not rich people.”

    Founded in 1879, Two Blues is a Shute Shield stalwart. The club is operated almost entirely by volunteers, including Dennis “Muncher” Garlick, the 71-year-old waterboy, and the helpers who run the canteen, which provides much of the club’s revenue. But clubs like Moran’s have over the years been variously ignored or held in contempt by the ARU. In 2014, when the ARU was facing insolvency, Pulver requested the clubs forgo their annual $100,000 grants. Two years later, when the clubs requested the grants be reinstated, Pulver refused, reportedly saying he didn’t want them to “piss it up the wall”. (Pulver declined to take part in this story.)

    State administrators have been equally out of touch. For decades the NSWRU has appointed a development officer for Shute Shield clubs, including Two Blues. But, according to Moran, it never understood the cultural dimension of the job. “Western Sydney has a large Islander population but we didn’t have any development officers who were Islanders. Development officers have to understand the social conditions. You can’t just send someone from Manly to be a DO in Merrylands.”

    Moran says the game is “cannibalising itself”. Recent years have seen lavish pre-season launches at exclusive nightclubs; catered corporate events and runaway overstaffing. Last year it emerged that RA had spent $19 million on corporate costs in 2019, and just $4.3 million on community rugby, and was employing more than 200 people.

    “I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Scott Allen, who was appointed assistant coach to the women’s national rugby team, the Wallaroos, in 2016. “I remember walking into ARU headquarters on my first day and there were people and desks everywhere. And I thought, ‘What the f… are all these people doing?’ ”

    Pulver had some wins, including a $285 million, five-year broadcast deal with Foxtel. But he also oversaw the disastrous axing of the Western Force Super Rugby team in 2017. The decision enraged Force fans, and saw the West Australian premier threaten to sue the ARU. Thousands of people protested in Perth, led by mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest.

    “The process was a charade,” Forrest tells me. “It was shocking leadership and governance.” Former Wallaby Nathan Sharpe described the decision on Twitter as “the biggest mistake the ARU could have made”. The episode effectively ended Pulver’s term. He quit, in August 2017, pocketing a $300,000 bonus on his way out the door.

    Not all of rugby’s woes are self-inflicted. You can’t blame administrators for time zone differences, which mean that games involving Australian teams overseas are often broadcast here at 3am or 4am. It’s also hard for Australia to compete with the financial might of the northern hemisphere unions, which regularly poach our best players. Then there’s Israel Folau, the star Wallaby whose homophobic social media posts wound up costing RA millions of dollars in legal fees and saw the game ensnared in a high-profile debate over free speech that it could not win.

    Good Weekend Talks: ‘Rugby is on the bones of its arse right now’
    Yet infighting and opportunism continue to poison the game. Last year saw a clumsy attempt to overthrow the RA board, when 11 former Wallaby captains wrote an open letter accusing the game’s leadership, headed by CEO Raelene Castle, of mismanagement. Castle, who is from New Zealand, had taken over from Pulver in 2017, and was wrestling with the financial impact of COVID. At the same time, she had put the broadcast rights out to tender, snubbing long-time partner Foxtel. Castle’s decision would eventually deliver a huge win for rugby, opening the way for a $100 million deal with Nine, part of which involved a free-to-air component.

    But at the time Foxtel was furious. Castle found herself under attack from journalists at News Corp (Foxtel’s majority owner). Then came the captains’ letter, the public faces of which were Nick Farr Jones and former Foxtel commentator Phil Kearns. The letter was regarded by many as baldly self-serving of Kearns, who had lost out to Castle for the CEO’s job two years before. Kearns denies this.

    “No one from Foxtel ever rang me and said they wanted me to run for CEO,” he tells me. “[And there] was never any talk by the captains explicitly of me going into the CEO role.” It was telling, however, that Kearns and the others had not intervened when the game faced insolvency under Pulver. “In any case,” says Sam Bruce, rugby writer at ESPN, “if they really wanted to help the game, there was nothing stopping them from calling Castle and saying, ‘How can I help?’ ”

    “The whole episode painted a really ugly picture for the game right when what it needed most was positivity and cohesion.”

    As far as Bruce is concerned, the coup was just another power play. “Castle was an outsider,” he says. “She was a Kiwi, a woman, and she didn’t live in Mosman. Her appointment caught rugby’s old boys’ establishment off guard. They thought they were losing control.” Castle resigned in April 2020, her decision prompted by what the then chairman Paul McLean described as a campaign of “abhorrent” bullying, both online and from vested interests in the media. Says Bruce: “The whole episode painted a really ugly picture for the game right when what it needed most was positivity and cohesion.”

    In 2012, John O’Neill put together a presentation using a report by US management guru Jim Collins. Collins outlines five key stages of an organisation’s collapse, including Inaction, Crisis and Dissolution. On the last page O’Neill had written: “Where is Australian rugby?” One could ask the same question now.

    A commentator on the sports website The Roar suggests the game is facing a “multi-generational battle” to restore its fortunes. A GreenandGoldRugby.com reader proposed that rugby go amateur again. Peter FitzSimons, meanwhile, believes the game’s worst days are behind it. “We have crossed the Valley of Death and are slowly starting to climb to the other side.”

    Hamish McLennan is similarly upbeat. “We’ve got some great young players coming through [at the elite level],” he says, when we meet at RA’s Moore Park HQ. “And there’s been a lot of good work reconnecting with the grassroots.” McLennan has stopped the soap opera at head office, and established an advisory board to bid for the 2027 World Cup (Phil Kearns is the executive director). “That’s the light on the hill,” nods McLennan. “We stand a pretty good chance of getting that.”

    How private equity could secure the financial future of Rugby Australia
    Private equity is also in the picture. Luxembourg based CVC Capital Partners has invested $1.2 billion in European rugby, most recently buying a 14 per cent stake in the Six Nations, a yearly tournament between Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, England and Italy. And American group Silver Lake Partners reportedly plans to put $NZ465 million into New Zealand rugby in return for a 15 per cent share of commercial rights. McLennan says a number of private equity outfits, including CVC, Bruin Capital and Silver Lake, are likewise looking at Australia.

    It’s unclear what such an investment would look like. “Do we do it at a competition level, do we include the clubs or not, do we sell a part of the Wallabies or the whole organisation? We have to figure that out,” says McLennan.

    There’s a lot at stake. “We’re on the ground floor of a complete rebuild for rugby. But it’s taken a long time getting to this point, and it’ll take quite a few years to get out of it.”

    For those who believe the game is beyond salvation here, he points to Argentina, who beat the All Blacks for the first time ever last year. “That’s the thing with sport,” says McLennan. “You can come from nowhere and surprise people.”

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    Immortal jargan83's Avatar
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    Gave up after a paragraph - TLDR

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    Legend Contributor Alison's Avatar
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    Great piece, although a bit too pro John O’Neill for me.

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    Proudly Western Australian; Proudly supporting Western Australian rugby

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    All a bit of a rambling mess for mine. Not sure what the point of it was.

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    Immortal GIGS20's Avatar
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    It started to turn into bald propaganda in the middle when it used the report of the senate inquiry only to say that the super clubs continued to run to the Aru for money, yet didn't identify that only three of them got any and the one that was axed wasn't one of them.

    By the end, it hadn't really resolved anything or made any sort of point it just rambled on with an excessively pro shute shield perspective.

    Mentions arc being too expensive and angering the Sydney clubs but doesn't even mention the benefits of both it and the arc in player development

    Every wanker in NSW is critical of their team being too young and not battle gardened, but their solution is always shute shield. Nobody in NSW rugby has learned anything yet

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    C'mon the

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    Legend Contributor .X.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GIGS20 View Post
    It started to turn into bald propaganda in the middle when it used the report of the senate inquiry only to say that the super clubs continued to run to the Aru for money, yet didn't identify that only three of them got any and the one that was axed wasn't one of them.

    By the end, it hadn't really resolved anything or made any sort of point it just rambled on with an excessively pro shute shield perspective.

    Mentions arc being too expensive and angering the Sydney clubs but doesn't even mention the benefits of both it and the arc in player development

    Every wanker in NSW is critical of their team being too young and not battle gardened, but their solution is always shute shield. Nobody in NSW rugby has learned anything yet
    GIGS I was wondering about your dislike of Shute Shield.

    what exactly dont you like?

    why?

    Also, every wanker in NSW? I assume that includes me?

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    Quote Originally Posted by .X. View Post
    GIGS I was wondering about your dislike of Shute Shield.what exactly dont you like?why?Also, every wanker in NSW? I assume that includes me?
    What exactly I don't like is that the competition pretends to be all things to all Australian rugby when nobody outside NSW (probably only Sydney) cares in any way.I hope like hell that Tane edmed gets plenty of minutes this afternoon so that the poster boy for the value of a season playing in the shute shield can prove how close the level is to super rugby.IMHO it's not going to happen because, if he was good enough for super rugby, the recently sacked coach would have used him already, so it's better to leave him on the bench.As for you, I guess you'll prove whether I was including you in my comment by your reaction to it.

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    Legend Contributor .X.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GIGS20 View Post
    What exactly I don't like is that the competition pretends to be all things to all Australian rugby when nobody outside NSW (probably only Sydney) cares in any way.I hope like hell that Tane edmed gets plenty of minutes this afternoon so that the poster boy for the value of a season playing in the shute shield can prove how close the level is to super rugby.IMHO it's not going to happen because, if he was good enough for super rugby, the recently sacked coach would have used him already, so it's better to leave him on the bench.As for you, I guess you'll prove whether I was including you in my comment by your reaction to it.
    How many Shute Shield matches have you watched? Or, been too?

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    Quote Originally Posted by .X. View Post
    How many Shute Shield matches have you watched? Or, been too?
    Started to watch a couple in Stan, but my heart wasn't in it, so gave up early.The internal standard isn't relevant to my point though.I enjoyed the hell out of her even though I knew the standard was well below super rugby. The comparitive standard wasn't noticeable because the teams were fairly closely matched (apart from the force being more cohesive than the other teams)Transition to super rugby and the gulf was noticeable. Even an enhanced force wasn't really competitive and we're honestly struggling to meet the standard for third, even with all the imports this year.Shute shield apologists continue to point to it as the perfect feeder to super rugby but with nothing of value to use as evidence. I disagree but with nothing of value to use as evidence.The difference is, there are people pushing that agenda who have the ability to prove their point by giving edmed, who they say tore it up with Eastwood last year, significant minutes in super rugby to prove how much more ready he is than garrison, who has come from school, through the academy and appears not to have played a lot of shute shield.It's interesting that somebody who has no real history in the argument (Penney) has chosen not to play him. I contend that the reason this might have happened is because he's clearly no better than Harrison and therefore the entitled wankers that continue to destroy any development pathway that doesn't feed into an ineffective Sydney club competition are wrong.That of course, is my opinion, based upon limited evidence and explained as clearly as I can.Do you disagree?Could you clarify the reasons behind your opinion?

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    I have never seen a Shute Shield game on TV or Live.

    I have no opinion

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    Quote Originally Posted by GIGS20 View Post
    What exactly I don't like is that the competition pretends to be all things to all Australian rugby when nobody outside NSW (probably only Sydney) cares in any way.I hope like hell that Tane edmed gets plenty of minutes this afternoon so that the poster boy for the value of a season playing in the shute shield can prove how close the level is to super rugby.IMHO it's not going to happen because, if he was good enough for super rugby, the recently sacked coach would have used him already, so it's better to leave him on the bench.As for you, I guess you'll prove whether I was including you in my comment by your reaction to it.
    Spot on.

    btw There are grass roots rugby people who are Shute Shield haters in Sydney too.

    I have been to and seen a fair bit of rugby there and the standard, especially in the top half of the shield, is good. That's not the issue; it's fine as a semi-amateur premier club comp. But it's run by wankers who - like you say - think it's the be all and end all to rugby's problems.

    "We're the grass roots, seeding rugby's future." Meh, you harvest players from other juniors, schools and the bush, as but one link in the chain like everywhere else.

    "Oh, but we're also the best path to prepare players for Super Rugby". Well, no you're not. The gap to pro rugby is huge. Too much spread, mismatched contests, their level is really not good enough.

    These self-important farts hold the rest of NSW rugby to ransom for their own ends, then veto and scuttle other beneficial rugby developments that might reduce their control.

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    As an analogy, the actual grass roots all the juniors and subbies teams across the country, and equate to primary schooling through to year 10. It culminates in the Premier rugby competitions, which are upper school. Shute Shield may be the best of them, like an academically select school, but it is still just high school.

    Time was that further education was then by apprenticeship, determined as much by nepotism as by merit. But that is no longer the case; the world has moved on and expects professional standards based on merit. That is what the NRC should have been...university for rugby, teaching the specific skills required for professionalism. Unfortunately, Australia remains stuck with apprenticeship and on-the-job training, with the entirely predictable carnage as they learn their business. It leaves them as 18th century barber-surgeons, trying to compete in a world of modern medicine.

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    I mean there are probably good rugby people involved with shute shield clubs. I don't discount that as a possibility. I only take issue with the self-important reality-challenged fuckwits who think it's a valid feeder to super rugby.

    Eastwood, for example, provided a team for a pre-season game against the force.

    Iirc, they were pretty convincingly beaten by the team that didn't win a game last year. (Memory's fuzzy, was it last year)

    I think that says things about the standard, and the willingness of at least one team to promote rugby in general.

    Tatafu was a paramatta club legend and he turned out to be a fantastic bloke, so I'm clearly not pushing my opinions down to the individuals. But the collective can die in a hole for all I care.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ham105 View Post

    "We're the grass roots, seeding rugby's future."
    There's one line in that long article that is very relevant, the one about pissing money away. But like a lot of things Pulver got it wrong and gave the SS clubs plenty of ammo. IIRC they were wanting the money supposedly for THEM to appoint and run development officers. Had he said we're not handing any more money over for you twats to waste on poaching players, they wouldn't have had a single shot to fire.

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    Quote Originally Posted by shasta View Post
    There's one line in that long article that is very relevant, the one about pissing money away. But like a lot of things Pulver got it wrong and gave the SS clubs plenty of ammo. IIRC they were wanting the money supposedly for THEM to appoint and run development officers. Had he said we're not handing any more money over for you twats to waste on poaching players, they wouldn't have had a single shot to fire.
    That's interesting, I missed the development officers part of that story.

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