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ARU review will help game get its mojo back


"If we want to be the best rugby nation in the world - not just at the elite level but also as a community game - we can't circle the wagons" ... General Peter Cosgrove.

"If we want to be the best rugby nation in the world - not just at the elite level but also as a community game - we can't circle the wagons" ... General Peter Cosgrove. Photo: AFR

An Australian Rugby Union corporate governance review is long overdue and an important step towards convincing all that the game's administration at the top end is actually professional and no longer suffering from the hangovers of the amateur era.

Prompted by government threats funding could be cut if the ARU stuck with its antiquated ways, General Peter Cosgrove and Mark Arbib, the former federal minister for sport, will head the review, which is expected to lead to a major overhaul, including a fully independent board and each state being on an equal footing.

As numerous sports, particularly Australian football, have transformed themselves through an independent commission, Australian rugby has been laughed at. For decades, NSW and Queensland have been the big brothers. At last week's annual meeting, NSW had five votes, Queensland three, while the other states and territories had one each.

NSW and Queensland also have a major say on the ARU's nine-man board, each having two representatives, while the other states have one.

Knowing their power base is under threat, NSW and Queensland will provide some resistance to this review but it was clear from Cosgrove's tone a few days ago they won't succeed.

''If we want to be the best rugby nation in the world- not just at the elite level but also as a community game - we can't circle the wagons. We've got to be as creative and energetic as we expect our players to be. This is not a time for old men in blazers to say: 'Not on my watch.' It's quite the reverse,'' Cosgrove said.

Ever so slowly, the leather patch blazer brigade, the alicadoos, are being hounded out of Australian rugby. So too the backroom politicking that has marred the game's development, often leading to the ARU and the major states being suspicious of each other and working in opposite directions.

The archaic voting system has even led to left-field candidates winning the Wallabies coaching position and others being ousted.

In 1988, Alan Jones was hopeful of holding onto the Wallabies job, as the NSW Rugby Union had instructed its five delegates to vote for him. However, one NSW delegate rebelled, casting his vote for Bob Dwyer. That was enough for Dwyer to win.

After the 1995 World Cup, Queensland coach John Connolly was highly favoured to replace Dwyer, as his record was far superior to the other two NSW candidates - Greg Smith and Chris Hawkins. However, the NSW delegates ensured Connolly had no chance.

John O'Neill, then about to join the ARU as its new chief executive, was at that delegates meeting and explained what happened in his biography, It's Only a Game. O'Neill had been told before the meeting Connolly was a ''shoo-in'' and that it was a ''done deal''.

When it was announced that Smith had won the vote, ''pandemonium ensued''.

''Fists hammered on the table; there was a rush of noise; papers flew in the air,'' O'Neill wrote. ''QRU chairman Dick McGruther could be heard about the din claiming treachery. His fellow Queensland delegates, John Breen and Norbert Byrne, were finger pointing and the language was blue. [ARU president] Phil Harry called for order and the three Queenslanders simply stormed out of the room. They eventually returned, still seething, while NSW delegates sat there with heads down and the hint of a smile playing at the corners of their mouths.''

O'Neill was suspicious a deal had been done between NSW and one southern delegate to get Smith over the line.

Nowadays the appointment of the Wallabies coach is more professionally conducted. But elsewhere in its administration, improvements are required. It mustn't end there though. After this review, other crucial areas including player development, law improvements and commercial opportunities should be investigated.

Then, at last, Australian rugby, struggling for identity due to AFL and rugby league dominance, may regain some of its mojo.

27 comments so far

  • Let's hope so. Such reforms are long overdue and can only help the game. Let's also hope that the importance of a national competition, regardless of whether it is initially profitable or not, is strenuously emphasised. The lack of depth in Aussie rugby has really been highlighted this year.

    Date and time
    April 30, 2012, 3:10AM
    • @Harry, the lack of depth in Australian Rugby starts with schools' and junior players. How many of those do we have compared to SA or NZ. I sat in front of a Saffie at the Tahs yesterday and listened as he explained to his companion how Rugby is virtually the only winter sport played at (white?) school. How many Australian schools play Rugby as their main winter sport? Naff all!
      Most of the mony comes from Super 15 but the provinces (such as they are) are generally appallingly run (like another commenter, I'm an ex-member).
      AS I watched the Tahs on Sunday I couldn't help but notice how much better drilled the Crusaders were. Not stronger or cleverer - so many things were automatic. They were patient too. So maybe either the coaching or the application of the players isn't as good as it could be.
      I wish the review well, but I find it difficult to imagine rugby surpassing AFL, or even League.

      Date and time
      April 30, 2012, 4:26PM
  • And congratulations to Mike Hawker on his election as ARU Chairman. A worthy appointment.

    a don
    Date and time
    April 30, 2012, 8:30AM
    • Hopefully a shore thing! Let's hope so.

      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      April 30, 2012, 9:51PM
  • Well what a surprise - when the ARU finally gets its act together, it may start to get the fans returning to teh game. The current situation is unfortunately laughable - it is a shame it takes the threat of withdrawn funding to get someone to take any notice.

    Too many old faces and closed doors. Get professional and you get successful. Don't lose the connection with the history, nor the great players - their role is essential. Just get them out of the administration of the game.

    Then I, and many others, will return to watching and having any interest in the great gme it is. When will someone finally fix the small things - eg, the time clock running while nothing happens, the scoring arrangements -these things are simply farcical and outdated. We may return to running rugby one day hopefully.

    Looking for excitement and thrills in the game - look to AFL. Shame to say it - just ask yourself - when was the last time you saw a match where it was at a "knife's-edge" for the last 20 minutes - tension is a rarity in rugby. Just boring, boring.

    Just an ex life-member lost to the game.

    Date and time
    April 30, 2012, 8:44AM
    • Waratahs vs Crusaders - Sunday afternoon

      Perth via Rakaia
      Date and time
      April 30, 2012, 4:44PM
    • Oh please, are you serious or just seriously a pest. Sure there are issues but to say...'when was there a knife-edge in last 20 mins' is a nonsense.
      Yes you are 'lost' and it's questionable as to whether, ever, you were a true 'life-member'.
      Life is a journey not a given @ 2 Tim Tam

      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      April 30, 2012, 10:02PM
    • @TomTom2 Good riddance

      Date and time
      May 01, 2012, 6:26PM
  • Right with you 'harry'. Teh joke that led to WA getting the estra team in 2006 led to a sigh of relief at AFL headquarters where they couldn't believe their luck that the ARU had made such a stupid decision at a time the AFL believed a window of opportunity had opened for Rugby to make a serious in-road in Victoria at the expense of the AFL . That window had long closed by the time the Rebels were (most reluctantly by the ARU) given the go ahead.
    Go for it General - anything will be better than what Rugby has now

    Date and time
    April 30, 2012, 10:47AM
    • 'the joke?'

      You mean that massive grassroots movement by the WA rugby community, culminating in a massive show of support by the fans, players and others in the community at Subiaco oval, shown on all the news channels and front page of the WA papers?

      I must've missed the punchline.

      Perth via Rakaia
      Date and time
      April 30, 2012, 4:43PM

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