Mitchell, Ashley-Cooper test overseas options
Could the Waratahs and Wallabies lose Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper next year? The Breakdown understands both players are taking a long, hard look at their options. Mitchell is understood to be in contact with Irish club Leinster, French club Toulon and at least one other Top 14 team, while Ashley-Cooper is interested in Japan. Age might have something to do with it. Mitchell, who returned from a bad ankle injury to make the Wallabies' spring tour last year and notch his 101st Super Rugby match, turns 29 this year and is well aware of the talent waiting in the, errr, wings. For both players, who are off contract at the end of this year, the matter will hinge on timing. Both the Waratahs and the ARU are a little way off opening formal negotiations with their players but northern hemisphere clubs, whose seasons start much earlier, want answers soon.
Brakes on Barnes
Another Waratah could have his plans to move offshore scuppered. Berrick Barnes has been cautiously enthusiastic about a possible move to Japan to play for the Panasonic Wild Knights but the Breakdown is hearing the chances of the Wallabies playmaker securing an early release from the ARU are slim. Wallabies coach Robbie Deans may yet have to play bad cop with his Mr Reliable if this year's Super season breaks as many fullbacks and five-eighths as it did last year. There is also talk the Wild Knights are still perusing the market for a playmaker. That's important because if the deal with Barnes was a sure thing, the Wild Knights would have no reason to keep looking.
Club-hopping time? ... Drew Mitchell. Photo: Getty Images
The final word
The ARU has not ruled out sending back Test players to their Super Rugby franchises for a crucial derby round before the British and Irish Lions tour in June. The ARU confirmed it would give Wallabies coach Robbie Deans the requested three-week window to prepare for the Lions, with a 25-man squad going into camp on June 2. That means the Rebels, Brumbies, Force and Waratahs, which all play in round 17 matches the following weekend (while the Reds play the touring side), will be without their Wallabies players at a potentially do-or-die point in the season. But ARU chief Bill Pulver said he would consider releasing players if finals spots hung in the balance. "If those Super Rugby matches have significant bearing on the competition standings, and finals spots are at stake, ARU will take that under serious consideration," Pulver said.
There was drama and intrigue on the pitch on Thursday when security tried to stop Fox Sports News doing a live cross before the Rebels captain's run at Allianz Stadium. Reporter Louise Ransome was 30 seconds from going to air when a security guard told her and the cameraman to "move on" from the empty pitch. The guard then stood in the background and forced the studio to delay the cross, saying "the Waratahs" had requested their removal. The Waratahs denied sending security onto the pitch, which raises the question, who did? Security later apologised to the Rebels – though not to Fox Sports News – who could have reasonably been of the opinion that a television interview before a Waratahs' home game would surely help NSW and Allianz Stadium sell tickets, not give away state secrets. Ransome eventually made the cross and, mercifully, was allowed to stay for the rest of the session but not before four separate groups were drawn into the discussion, before a single football boot hit the turf. Good times!
Credit where it's due to the Waratahs, who have talked the talk about reconnecting with the heartland and being more accessible. It appears they are also prepared to walk the walk, offering free membership to all of last year's registered NSW junior players, meaning free entry to all Waratahs home games. The only charge is a $9.95 administration fee. The Tahs have also slashed the price of their match programs from $9 to $5 after bringing the operation in-house, with the help of Jim Davis at Rugby News.
Walker for Sevens
Great to see dual international Andrew Walker still having a crack. Walker, who battled alcohol and drug issues at times during his career in league and rugby, is playing in the Ella Sevens Rugby tournament in Coffs Harbour on Friday and Saturday.