At Randwick Rugby Club's season launch last Thursday, in a boardroom 38 storeys high looking out towards Sydney Harbour, ARU chief executive Bill Pulver arrived and took his seat at an event not many expected him to attend.
Across from Pulver on the other side of the table was Randwick president Bob Dwyer, a man who does not see eye-to-eye with Pulver on one major issue; the allocation of funding to club rugby.
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It started when Pulver, at a meeting with the NSWRU board in January, said he wasn't prepared to give money directly to clubs because they would "piss it up the wall" on player payments.
The former Wallabies coach launched a scathing attack on Pulver, saying: "How a person in his position can make such a stupid comment I'll never know."
To say Dwyer and other club presidents were livid would be an understatement, particularly because they were kept in the dark about the ARU's five-year strategic plan, which focuses on investments in some areas deemed more important than the Shute Shield clubs.
ARU chairman Cameron Clyne then visited all 12 clubs and spoke to their presidents. He listened to their concerns and reiterated why the Shute Shield held a pivotal place in the Australian rugby landscape.
From there, a letter written by Dwyer on behalf of all presidents landed on Clyne and Pulver's desk on Tuesday morning.
The letter, obtained by Fairfax Media, outlines concerns about the deployment of development officers and a proposal to extend to the length of the Shute Shield season, but also asked why - if the ARU weren't happy with how funds had been spent by clubs in previous years - they did not try and keep an audit of clubs' financial records.
In what Pulver believes is "a really encouraging development", a meeting will take place early next month whereby the ARU, NSWRU and its new chief executive Andrew Hore as well as presidents of the Sydney clubs will discuss how best to allocate funds.
"We're all going to sit in a room to see if we can get some agreement on the best way to make that investment for the benefit of the game," Pulver said. "We haven't actually spent any of the money at this point that we've allocated with NSWRU, so we're going in with an open mind."
The ARU have said they will invest $500,000 into Western Sydney by hiring development officers to increase participation levels, but in Dwyer's letter, he writes that: "We think that it is undeniable that those who best know how development resources could be effectively allocated are the clubs themselves … we thus think it indisputable that the allocation of development resources should be in the hands of the clubs."
Pulver said he "loved the idea" and it this type of open-minded response to a number of thoughtful proposals from clubs which shows a volatile relationship between the governing body and disgruntled clubs might be on the mend.
Former Wallabies captain Simon Poidevin, who spoke at the Randwick launch about why the framework clubs provide – and have done for years - should be better utilised to develop talent, said open dialogue was paramount. "My major problem, and I've said it Bill [Pulver], I've said it to Cameron [Clyne], and I've said it to John Eales; in the strategic plan, as far as I know, no club was interviewed," Poidevin said. "Sorry guys, that's not acceptable."
The letter also outlines a "strong support for a return to the pre-2014 22-round, full home-and-away competition structure [of the Shute Shield], irrespective of the NRC."
Pulver, however, said he was comfortable with the current length of the season.
"We feel the role of the NRC is strategically critical and we want to have that discussion with them," Pulver said. "We feel an 18-week season is a very big season already and clearly Australian Rugby Union wants to have a period of time carved out for the NRC."
Next month's meeting will no doubt be an interesting tug-of-war between the ARU and the clubs who still feel somewhat hard done by.
"We accept that the ARU's funds are finite; but we strongly believe that, within its overall budget (notably, but not limited to, the marketing budget) there is room for readjustment which would allow increased funding to clubs," Dwyer wrote.
While funds are distributed from the ARU to the NSWRU and then filtered down to the clubs, Pulver has restated why he does not think it is appropriate for clubs to be funded directly
"My concern has always been the ARU writing a direct cheque for the clubs when some of those clubs need it more than others and there may well be better use of funds," Pulver said. "We all want the club infrastructure to be strengthened … so now the three entities (ARU, NSWRU and clubs) are going to sit down constructively together to work out the best path to achieve that and that's a good outcome."
Even as the Shute Shield season rolls on for for another year, Dwyer will continue to fight to keep club rugby on the ARU's map.
"Where do we get the best bang for our buck? Without a shadow of a doubt with the suburban clubs," Dwyer said.