Rugby Union

Saturday Serve

ARU sabbatical rules set to help Brumbies keep their stars in Australia

It's been dubbed the "Izzy Folau trump card" but the ACT Brumbies are set to start using the ARU's new contract protocols as a lure to lock in their stars on long-term deals.

You can call it a cash grab or a mercenary dash, it doesn't matter. There's a simple answer to the question of whether the ARU's decision to relax its contract rules will help Australian rugby.

And here's why: Ben Alexander, David Pocock, Stephen Moore and Tevita Kuridrani can earn bucketloads overseas, but they want to play for the Wallabies.

Now they can do both, to a certain extent, and it's likely all will ask the question when they negotiate new deals.

Remember Matt Giteau? No? He was the 92-Test veteran, Brumbies championship winner and a Queanbeyan junior.

If he doesn't ring a bell, how about Ben Mowen, the Wallabies captain and Brumbies skipper. George Smith?


Then there's Peter Kimlin, a redhead Canberra junior who was on the verge of cementing a Wallabies berth.

Giteau, Mowen, Kimlin and Smith started to question their future with the Wallabies. All four quit Australian rugby. And all four signed massive deals with French clubs.

But if you'd given them the option to take a break from the rigours of Australian rugby, fill their pockets with some extra cash from rich European clubs and then return refresh and rejuvenated, they would have all taken it.

So now picture this: a Brumbies back line with Matt Toomua, Christian Lealiifano, Giteau, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Nic White, Joseph Tomane and Jesse Mogg.

In the forwards there'd be Mowen, Kimlin, Scott Fardy, David Pocock, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Sam Carter and Scott Sio. Not a bad-looking Super Rugby outfit.

Would Giteau, Smith, Mowen and Kimlin have stayed in Australia if they had the option?

"Guys would have definitely stayed. A lot of those guys make the decision to go overseas. Your career is finite and there is good money on offer overseas," Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said.

"When you come out of the game you've got to start from scratch again. So it's hard to turn down. This framework is in now, people will push it right to the limit."

The ARU has given permission for Super Rugby clubs to allow one non-Wallabies player to take a sabbatical overseas.

The ARU will then help negotiate with its top 30 players if they're willing to sign for three years or more and keen to supplement their earnings with a season abroad.

On the surface, it could be a disaster for the Brumbies when the rules apply from 2016 onwards.

Imagine if Pocock, Moore, Lealiifano, Toomua, Kuridrani, White and Carter wanted to take a break at the same time. It's a nightmare.

Larkham is keen to start negotiating with Pocock, Moore, Alexander and Kuridrani as soon as possible to lock away key members.

But by Larkham's own admission, they'd be "crazy" not to investigate adding a sabbatical clause into any new deal.

Kuridrani was almost tempted overseas last year, Pocock has played just five games in the past two seasons, and Moore and Alexander would be attractive options for cashed-up clubs.

Scott Fardy has signed a one-year extension, but at 30 years of age he could be tempted to leave Australia.

The ARU's problem in the past is that they've farewelled players like Giteau, Kimlin and Mowen without any possibility of them returning.

They then rarely come back, mainly because of the money on offer, a new lifestyle and the thought that a Wallabies jersey has passed them by.

For too long the Wallabies jersey has been used as the only temptation for players to stay in Australia.

Pat McCabe is perfect example of why it's hard for players to turn down big-money offers from overseas. One injury, or three in McCabe's case, can be the end of it all.

A rugby career doesn't last forever. No one blames players for taking a chance to maximise their earning.

And if the ARU didn't introduce this new policy, they would have gone broke trying to keep their stars.

Here's the only problem. There was an original plan for the ARU to introduce the rules with players allowed to go overseas once they'd earned 50 Wallabies caps or served Australian rugby for four years.

Why did that change? Folau. To date he has played 20 Tests and been in the game for two years. The challenge for the ARU is making sure they don't upset the NSW Waratahs' rivals by opening doors for Folau, and then shutting them on others.


Pat McCabe wasn't a flashy player. But ask anyone at the Brumbies and they'll tell you he was the toughest.

McCabe, 26, retired this week after breaking his neck for a third time.

He spoke with emotion and optimism for the future after he made his decision.

There's one image of McCabe's career that stands out in my mind. In the 2011 World Cup clash against South Africa, he was playing with a busted shoulder which would eventually need surgery and almost six months recovery.

He threw himself into every tackle and helped the Wallabies win. But before the game finished, McCabe reluctantly left the field with blood pouring from his nose. He was angry he couldn't finish the game for his mates.

That's just one reason why Pat "Chuck Norris" McCabe will be remembered as the toughest bugger in world rugby.