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Exclusive Bill Pulver Interview - Full Transcript
ARU job's been fun - Bill Pulver
Greg Growden
May 13, 2013
ARU CEO Bill Pulver larks around  during the 2013 Australian Super Rugby launch at Sketch, Central Pier, Melbourne, February 13, 2013
Bill Pulver has many balls in the air at the Australian Rugby Union © Getty Images
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Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver sat down with ESPNscrum correspondent Greg Growden: before attending a International Rugby Board meeting in Dublin, and he spoke with remarkable candour about the state of the game in Australia - not least about the union's troubling finances and about a raft of proposals to get the game humming again, including the possibility of reduced salaries for Australia's leading players.

Pulver also told ESPNscrum about his proposal for a third-tier competition to develop the game and playing stocks, to be played under radical new Laws of the Game, while suggesting that New South Wales Waratahs, in particular, were key if rugby were to re-engage and re-energise "rusted-fans" while allowing itself to address a new audience.

Pulver spoke also in the wide-ranging interview about the ARU's inability to secure a naming-rights sponsor for the British & Irish Lions series, about the Bledisloe Cup, the future of Robbie Deans, and his hopes for the Wallabies heading towards Rugby World Cup 2015 in England.

Read below the full transcript of the interview.

Greg Growden: : The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) recently reported an $8.4 million deficit for 2012, following on from a $10.5 million deficit in 2011. That has led to alarm bells ringing. Is the ARU's financial situation a serious concern, and how healthy is Australian rugby?

Bill Pulver:It's fair to say it is a concern. Historically we have had these periodic windfalls. Hosting the 2003 Rugby World Cup, and a ton of money came in. Every 12 years you have a British & Irish Lions tour and a ton of money comes in. Sadly there is not as much money coming in from the Lions tour this year as we would have wanted because of a quite difficult sponsorship market. Australian rugby has pretty much survived on major windfalls that have covered those sorts of losses until the next windfall comes in. But the reality is that the next windfall is 12 years away. The two big windfalls are Lions tours and Rugby World Cups. With World Cups, they generally alternate between north and south. So 2019 is Japan in the north. With 2023 if you were a betting man you'd probably be saying South Africa. 2027 goes north, and 2031 there's probably a decent chance the IRB will want to develop the game in South America. So it's possible it could be as long as 2039 before our next World Cup staged in Australia. So our next windfall being 12 years away does worry me.

We need to cut our expense cloth according to what we can afford in the short term, but the real solutions involve getting revenue growth going. To get that going we need a good strategic plan, plus understand what is happening with fan engagement. There are certain matrixes that do concern me about the game. But what I'm most concerned about is fan engagement. The good news is that we have a fantastic year and the excitement around the Lions tour has been palpable. Our Super Rugby teams are performing better than for a long time, and that should equate into a super competitive Wallabies team. If we can win a Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup, that will springboard growth into the game. It can be addressed, but turning around revenue is on the one hand about winning more at the elite level when 95 per cent of your revenue comes from Super Rugby and the Wallabies, and it is also turning the entertainment package around. Our rusted-on rugby fans have been slipping away from the game, and we've got to get them back. We have a fair bit of work to do.

Greg Growden: There is an assumption that playing in the World Cup is a financial windfall, but that's not the case. Australia for example loses a lot of money competing in the World Cup? Should that be addressed?

Bill Pulver: Australian rugby makes its money out of inbound Test matches primarily. That's the cash flow. The World Cup has costs because you don't play Tests at home. There have been some good negotiations with the IRB in obtaining compensation. They do make a ton of money out of the World Cup, and what needs to be reviewed is the entire financial model for rugby worldwide. The fact [is] the IRB makes so much money out of the World Cup, and you've got countries like Australia where you have a fiercely competitive winter sport market. Losing the revenue we desperately need to drive the game because of being involved in a World Cup doesn't sit comfortably with me.


Is Bill Pulver doing a good job at the ARU? Do you like his proposals for growing the game?

Discuss the interview with Greg Growden on Twitter at @GregGrowden or leave a comment at the foot of the page to join the conversation at ESPNscrum.


 
How is Sevens and women's rugby going to improve your revenue, because I can't see them dragging in big crowds? Greg Growden asks Bill Pulver to explain two of the cornerstones of his plans to develop rugby
 

Greg Growden: You are in a situation where crowds have been dropping and television ratings for rugby have slumped- while you struggle to get anything on free-to-air television. Can you see why people are worried that rugby is slipping dramatically?

Bill Pulver: The most problematic TV ratings have been at a free-to-air level. That has primarily been because we've had a relationship with Channel Nine and Seven where they had a conflict of interest with other sports and never showed Test matches live. This year with Channel Ten it is going to be entirely different because they are going to show every Test match live nationally. I don't know how long it has been since we've had that. So I'm hoping we will get a nice little kick out of that. Fox Sportsis also a terrific partner. Thirty per cent of our revenue comes from them. They are introducing new technology and that's a great way of re-engaging with our rugby community. But I also worry a little that you have to subscribe to Fox Sports to watch the best provincial tournament in the world. In my wildest dreams, I hope we can find a solution of Super Rugby being seen on free-to-air.

Greg Growden: That is one of the biggest complaints you hear:no Super Rugby on free-to-air, and except for Australian Test matches you don't see major rugby matches on the main channels. So is there any hope of more rugby being seen on free-to-air?

Bill Pulver: I'm in discussion with Fox Sports, but in fairness to them they paid for that exclusivity. We all want the popularity of rugby to grow. So is there an argument that by having more rugby on free-to-air that the rugby entertainment vehicle grows overall and that it is FoxSports' interest as well to have more on free-to-air? It's an argument, which is not easy to sell.

Greg Growden: I've heard you must cut ARU costs dramatically. One figure I've heard is $10million of cutbacks throughout the organisation. Are you able to dramatically cut costs?

Bill Pulver: We'll have a surplus this year on the back of the Lions tour. I want the ARU to be back to a solid cash balance at the end of this year. The forecasts I had when I walked into the ARU for 2014 and 2015 were about a $5million and an $8million deficit. Add those two together and you get a sense that you must have that sort of cash to keep you in the black during that period of time. We are looking at cutting back on core costs at the ARU. That involves a restructure, which has totally flattened the organisationstructure. Some would say that I have a ridiculous number of direct reports. But that's fairly typical of what you do when you come in to take layers out of an organisation to reduce your cost and become a more lean administration, which is ideally more agile.

The three key strategic drivers of the game are growth in participation; growth in elite talent, which wins games at elite level; and growth in revenue. The structure I've put into place is really focused on achieving those three things.

 
On the women's side, 20% of the global playing population is women. We are about 3%. Women pay the same entry price as men. They determine the sport their kids play, and the elite athletes are capable of winning gold medals. There is an economic engine there. Women's rugby will be part of the economic solution.
 

Greg Growden: Does this mean staff cutbacks?

Bill Pulver: David Nucifora and Matt Carroll have left, and those positions haven't been replaced. So that takes costs out of the business. There is also some finessing that we are doing to get the cost base down. Also the two fastest growing components of rugby worldwide are Sevens and women. We've under-invested in both of them. So I've got to put some investment into these two areas. It involves a reallocation of an existing resource. We've taken resources that have been primarily focused largely around the Wallabies program, and moved a little bit of it so we have green shoots elsewhere. Sevens and women's rugby is not going to solve your revenue problem in 2014. But by 2015-16-17, you are going to start to see growth, particularly on the back of the Olympic Games.

Greg Growden: How is Sevens and women's rugby going to improve your revenue, because I can't see them dragging in big crowds?

Bill Pulver: Sevens will eventually. As you move towards the Olympic Games, the popularity of Sevens will grow. Having a team representing your country in Rio de Janeiro is going to dramatically change participation and popularity of Sevens, and hopefully sponsorship and game attendance. You'd like to think leading up to 2016 that you are getting a revenue model that works.

Greg Growden: If you are going to focus so much on Sevens, does this means more Sevens tournaments in Australia?

Bill Pulver: Yes. In the past three to five years with the XVs game, we've lost some of the rusted-on rugby fans. The marketing plan for the XVs game is to get them back.

Greg Growden: You surely don't think Sevens Rugby is going to lure all these fans back?

Bill Pulver: No. But what Sevens will do is actually diversify the audience. It will get new players into the game. They'll actually be different players. One of the concepts we are working on is making Sevens a summer sport and start it at a junior rugby level. So at a junior rugby club, the first game you play at the under-sevens level is Sevens rugby. You know what kids footy is like: 30 kids around a honey pot. Sevens will be a great starter game, and by playing it in the summer we should get kids who are playing rugby league and AFL to actually try Sevens.

Greg Growden: So you're using Olympics as a lure?

Bill Pulver: One of the lures. There is nothing like representing your country. On the women's side, 20% of the global playing population is women. We are about 3%. Women pay the same entry price as men. They determine the sport their kids play, and the elite athletes are capable of winning gold medals. There is an economic engine there. Women's rugby will be part of the economic solution.

Greg Growden: Harking back to the Lions, when are you going to amp up that series via promotions, television commercials and so forth? My understanding is that David Pocock was going to be the face of your promotional campaign, but that has been thwarted by him getting seriously injured. Is there an alternative?

Bill Pulver: Channel Ten is doing some work on that right now. We are locating our TV campaigns around where we need to focus on filling the stadia. The reactions in the major markets is pretty good, so we've backed off and we'll reallocate our investment elsewhere. But there is a major drive coming up.

Greg Growden: We were told ticket sales for the Lions sold out in about 15 minutes. But now I hear there are tickets available. What is going on?

Bill Pulver: We actually never said the tickets sold out. What we said was that the allocations were exhausted. You allocate tickets to all the clubs, and the travel agents. On occasions some will come back. Still for Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, we expect those stadia to be full.

Greg Growden: I have heard that maybe because of the emphasis on the Lions tour that there is a concern about ticket sales for the Rugby Championship.

Bill Pulver: That's probably fair, because the focus has been on the Lions. So there's been less emphasis on the Rugby Championship. We need our ducks to line up here. If we have a good Lions series you'd believe it should flow onto the Rugby Championship. But the mindset out there is all around the Lions tour. Still I don't want a disastrous Lions tour and then a soft Rugby Championship.

Greg Growden: So where are you up to with Rugby Championship tickets? Are they a bit slow?

Bill Pulver: They're playing second fiddle to the Lions right now.

Greg Growden: So you're not worried about that yet?

Bill Pulver: No. It's a case of momentum. I hope we win the Tests against the Lions, and that, I think, will help us enormously for the rest of the year.

Greg Growden: How you find a major sponsor for this Lions tour?

Bill Pulver: We've been looking for a Lions naming rights sponsor, and it is one of the main things keeping me awake at night. One of the issues with our financial situation this year is that we haven't achieved our sponsorship budgets. The truth is that the Australian economy is actually in a pretty tight shape. There is not a lot of confidence out there, and that has affected sponsorship budgets. But I'm hoping by next week that I will be able to tell you that I have a Lions naming rights sponsor.

Greg Growden: I imagine you would have thought that getting a Lions naming rights sponsor would have been pretty easy to achieve. This is after all one of the biggest rugby events in Australia for years.

Bill Pulver: A no brainer.

Greg Growden: Do you think that has something to do with the whole feeling about Australian rugby at the moment; that it has lost its mojo?

Bill Pulver: To some extent, because we also don't have a Super Rugby sponsor this year. We don't have a major community rugby sponsor, either. That's what I mean by fan engagement. Fan engagement is in my opinion the leading indicator of your revenue- because that's the feeling, the atmospherics around the game. I've been looking at fan engagement figures, which have been dropping by the year, and that is what we've got to turn around. That reflects in not having those sponsors.


Is Bill Pulver doing a good job at the ARU? Do you like his proposals for growing the game?

Discuss the interview with Greg Growden on Twitter at @GregGrowden or leave a comment at the foot of the page to join the conversation at ESPNscrum.


Greg Growden: Are you surprised by the lack of fan interest, or can you see the reasons why?

Bill Pulver: It is 100 % consistent with the view I had when I came in here. I've been a life member of the Waratahs for a long time. I was sitting out there at that game against the Cheetahs with my three boys next to me. And our crowd is booing our team. My kids are looking at me and saying: "Do we have to come next week?" That's the issue of the spectacle. We all want to see a great game of rugby, but we have to appreciate that we compete not only with rugby league, AFL and soccer but we also compete with that beautiful bloody Bondi beach.But there is a collective effort in Australian rugby to play smart entertaining rugby, because that's what we need to get the crowds back.

Greg Growden: Is the crux of your problem that your biggest province- the Waratahs- and New South Wales, which produces so many of your players, has failed both on and off the field for years?

Bill Pulver: My focus as the head of the ARU is to work closely with all components of rugby. It's not just managing the Wallabies. The key economic solutions we need to resolve are the ARU and Super Rugby's financials. Super Rugby is only 18 years old, but it is not stand-alone profitable yet, and that's where we need to get to. In 18 years of Super Rugby, we've only won three tournaments and won none in NSW. The Waratahs board plus their coach, Michael Cheika, are trying to fix that. Yes, NSW has got to win tournaments and get the fan base back. When that happens, all of Australian rugby will benefit.

Greg Growden: Is it smarter for you to stand away from NSW?

Bill Pulver: No. Quite the opposite. One of the areas of focus I'm taking at the ARU is to wrap my arms around every Super Rugby franchise. To some extent the ARU has been sitting back and putting in place cookie-cutter policies, which apply to every franchise, whereas the needs of Perth are different to Canberra and the needs of Sydney. Australian rugby in total benefits if all Super Rugby franchises perform better. Queensland want to have a competitive game against the Force because they get more money out of it- so we need all of them to rise. One size doesn't fit all. We need unique policies which support each of them.

Robbie Deans describes the British & Irish Lions as the "ultimate test"
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Greg Growden: On the Wallabies, the major talking point all year has been Robbie Deans. You have endorsed him. Is he safe?

Bill Pulver: I inherited Robbie Deans. I'm personally not a big fan of chopping and changing coaches. Still I clearly want to hold my coach accountable for the performance of the team. The structural change I have just made means the Australian coach is accountable for appointing all the people who work with the Australian team… so they will be more accountable. But as of today, my sense is that there is some shared accountability between the coach, the players and the administrators. He has a contract, which goes through until the end of 2013. Obviously we have some pretty important milestones coming up this year: Lions tour, Rugby Championship, Bledisloe Cup, Spring Tour. We will be putting in place a process to award the next coaching contract later in the year.

Greg Growden: Will you have a review after the Lions tour or the Bledisloe Cup?

Bill Pulver: Yes. I will initiate a formal process. My first discussion with the directors about this was at our last meeting, and we will be putting in place a process. That will start in a couple of months, as part of the process to identify who is actually going to put their name forward for the position.

Greg Growden: I know the emphasis is on the Lions tour, but the Bledisloe Cup hasn't also been sighted in Australia for a long time. I would imagine how the Wallabies fare in this year's Bledisloe Cup would also have a major emphasis on the coaching position.

Bill Pulver: In the short term, there are three: Lions, Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup. And the strategic plan is about winning the 2015 World Cup. We've got a lot of excitement in the short term, but the strategic planning is how are we going to put a program in place to see Australia win the World Cup in London.


Is Bill Pulver doing a good job at the ARU? Do you like his proposals for growing the game?

Discuss the interview with Greg Growden on Twitter at @GregGrowden or leave a comment at the foot of the page to join the conversation at ESPNscrum.


Greg Growden: Can you honestly see this team being No. 1 in the world again, or are the halcyon days over?

Bill Pulver: I don't believe the halcyon days are over at all. Do I believe Australia can be No. 1 in the world again? Yes I do, without any question. I just think we have to be balanced in our expectation. New Zealand have in the history of the game been the dominant team. We have beaten them just one in four. But we have had periods of absolute greatness. If we put the right programs in place we can have another period of greatness. I can see a core playinggroup, which has the capability of winning the World Cup in 2015. If we win the 2015 World Cup, we could lay claim to being the No. 1 team in the world. Is that objective realistic? Yes, I think it is.

Greg Growden: A lot of Australian players have opted not to go overseas because of the dangle of the Lions tour. Then there is the dangle of a World Cup. But as you are in a difficult financial situation, will it get to the stage where you have to go to RUPA and say 'Is it time we talk about cutting back player salaries?'.

Bill Pulver: In the context of our financial situation, let me just say everything is on the table. I don't want to position this as a disaster scenario, but we need to finesse our cost base. So everything is on the table.

The Wallabies unveil their new kit, Australia, April 4, 2013
Leading Wallabies players may be looking at reduced salaries if they choose to remain in Australia © ARU
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Greg Growden: But you do understand what could happen if you do cut back player salaries?

Bill Pulver: That's a fine line you walk. We have two pressure points. One is other codes, and the other is international, particularly from Japan and France. But the opportunity and the excitement associated with the Wallabies jersey should carry a lot of value. What differentiates our game is not only we are an international game, but we are a very competitive international game. In some ways you could be only modestly satisfied with our performance at Wallabies level over the last few years, but we are still ranked third. So what happens if we absolutely get it right? The lure, power and magnetism of that Wallabies jersey is significant.

Greg Growden: I would imagine you're pushing that line with Israel Folau, who has been chased by a number of NRL clubs. Are you confident of holding onto him next year?

Bill Pulver: I don't know. He only signed up for one year. I would love to keep him in rugby. He's only played 10, 11 games. He's an extraordinary talent. He would also be very talented at Sevens. There is the lure of walking behind your country's flag into an Olympic venue, and winning a gold medal. But whether we keep him, I don't know whether we will or not.

Greg Growden: Where are you with George Smith?

Bill Pulver: Essentially the policy is that provided a player is contracted to a Super Rugby club, and there are Test matches in that same window, he is eligible. We are very close to having final approval. There are still some protocols in term of discussions with his Japanese club. But my understanding is that it is all heading in the right direction. I'm quietly confident he will be eligible to play for Australia against the Lions.

Greg Growden: How about Tests after the Lions?

Bill Pulver: In this context, he wouldn't be because at the end of the Super Rugby season he will be off contract. Therefore he would not be eligible for the Rugby Championship.

Greg Growden: Do you have any qualms about him being eligible for only part of the Test season?

Bill Pulver: I'm conscious of the fact that you have great young players like Liam Gill and Michael Hooper, who clearly have got to the point where they are worthy of consideration. At the end of the day, I want the best Australian team on the paddock we can get… and I'll leave that job to the selectors.

Greg Growden: The other big bone of contention is that the public remains angry that they do not understand the Super Rugby team names? Will that ever be changed?

Bill Pulver: I've raised that at SANZAR level because I take exactly the same view. I argued why don't we call them the Canterbury Crusaders, NSW Waratahs and so forth. But I can tell you from New Zealand I got a very clear summary that the Highlanders are not just Otago, but different regions. It is politically impossible to sell inside their country. I don't think it is going to change. But we can do it locally, and I quite like NSW Waratahs, Queensland Reds…

Greg Growden: You have been talking about a 'B' competition. What are your plans?

Bill Pulver: A strategy group has been working on this. It is built around the theory that 95 % of your revenue comes from the elite level of the game. The direct link to revenue growth is success at the elite level, and the other is entertainment value. Success mostly. So how do we improve our success rate? Historically a lot of the focus has been on the Wallabies. My personal theory is that the focus needs to be underneath Super Rugby. If we are more successful at a Super Rugby level, and the Wallabies selectors have a better crop of players to choose from, the Wallabies will take care of themselves. So this concept is a developmental competition. It's about taking kids currently sitting in rugby academies in Brisbane and Sydney doing a lot of coaching and training, and actually putting them in a real-life developmental competition. The main objective is to accelerate elite development so we win more games at a Super Rugby level. The secondary objective is to capture the hearts and minds of our rugby fans again with some exciting innovations, as well as filling the stadia again. The third objective is to find a component of the game, which can be packaged up for television- on Fox Sports or free-to-air.

The concept is a one-hour game of rugby. You can't have a 40-10-40-minute footy game as a curtain raiser and expect people to turn up at 5pm. They won't. They never have. We want to create an environment, which on the one hand exposes young talent to the Australian rugby public; and maybe do that through a draft, so you distribute that talent around the franchises, but it also focuses its energies on displaying smart, creative rugby. It is a case of where we have listened to the complaints about stoppages, and the frustration of the game. So here's a unique brand of the gamewhere we kick off at 6pm and be over by 7pm.

In the ideal world I would love two rule changes, and I have to work through this with the IRB: it would be 25-minute halves, no penalty goals, and five-minute yellow cards for infringements in your own half. The yellow card will be a bit like water polo; the rule I love in water polo is that if you infringe when they are attacking your goal, you are out of the pool until they score. Great rule. Our equivalent would be in a 25-minute game; an infringing player is off the field for five minutes or until the opposition scores.

This is designed at creating a frenetic-paced game based around smart running rugby. The tricky bit is that you don't want to do that and kill Premier Rugby. So we are looking at positioning this at the front end of the Super Rugby competition and that it complements club rugby, while potentially linking into Sevens programs. Club rugby starts in April. We might defer club rugby, so that it starts in May- and have this development competition going through until May. Then the players would go to club rugby.

Greg Growden: Would each province have a B team?

Bill Pulver: Yes.

Greg Growden: And the provinces run the teams?

Bill Pulver: Absolutely. There's two to three Super Rugby games at home every week. Four of the five teams would play every week. We don't have much money to set up another ARC [Australian Rugby Championship]. What this would do is that you use the infrastructure of the Super Rugby franchises. The grounds are already paid for. They are actually paid for from 5pm, when you open the gates. So no more costs there. Most of the Super Rugby franchises have already got four coaches. And you'd only have two travel teams each week. Travel is probably going to be the most significant cost. Player payments will have to be managed carefully.

Greg Growden: Will this mean expanded player squads?

Bill Pulver: Right now there are squads of 35. You'd probably take them to 45 or 50. You'd only have to add 10 to 15 per squad and you have enough for two teams.

Greg Growden: But there must a concern that if you are using this as a developmental process, what is the point of them playing a different game? Also some may say not having penalty goals you are missing out on the opportunity of teaching young kickers how to operate under pressure?

Bill Pulver: Conversions are still in there. But what we are trying to do is satisfy multiple objectives here. The public is frustrated with stoppages in the game, so this is a very obvious attempt to show an effect to address that.

It is also teaching the kids the skills required to play smart, creative rugby running. You'll have scrums, lineouts, and you are basically preparing them for Super Rugby, but there are a couple of compromises, which will add some excitement to the game.

 
So you think club rugby should revert back to an amateur base?
 

Greg Growden: Have you talked to TV executives about this?

Bill Pulver: Yes.

Greg Growden: What's the feeling?

Bill Pulver: I've spoken to Fox Sports and Channel Ten, and there's interest in it. We want to relaunch rugby, and this could be one of the vehicles to recreate excitement around the game. Ultimately the true test is whether we win more Super Rugby games from this. I've spoken to every coach, every chief executive at Super Rugby level. What they want is greater depth of playing talent. This should help them. In our wildest dreams we want the Australian franchises finishing first, second, third, fourth and fifth. Imagine that happening. Imagine this year if we have two teams in the final. How good would that be?

Greg Growden: There has been a major concern at club rugby for many years that they are ignored by those at provincial and national level. What are you thoughts about the importance of club rugby?

Bill Pulver: I think club rugby is enormously important in the Australian development pathway. I am also absolutely committed to making sure this Super Rugby development competition fits within it. Club rugby will always be the third tier. I've met a lot of people from club rugby in recent times, and there are a lot of clubs who have been struggling but where good quality leadership is stepping up to take control. There are economic models which are needed to work. But I am not really comfortable with player payments at club level and below. For example, in the Sydney competition last year, there was in excess $1million paid in player payments. They've managed to get themselves in a situation where there were bidding wars, which is not in anyone's interest.

Greg Growden: Club rugby has complained about lack of funding. What can the ARU do to help club rugby?

Bill Pulver: There are a lot of things we can do. We can with the Queensland and NSW Rugby Unions work together with the Premier clubs to find the right model. It's a model which complements Super Rugby, not compete with it. That's why we are looking at the season calendar. We did a review of Premier Rugby last year, which had a lot of very sensible recommendations, and we are going to follow through on those.

Greg Growden: So you think club rugby should revert back to an amateur base?

Bill Pulver: I do. And I believe most club presidents would support that. So that's a case of getting engaged and forcing a policy change.

Greg Growden: You recently went to New Zealand and saw their chief executive, Steve Tew. For quite a while there has been a push in Australia to get a centralisedcontracting system similar to that which the NZRU operates. Any chance of that happening here?

Bill Pulver: That's my preference. Do I have an answer in how we do that? No I don't. I personally have a considerable preference for the ARU negotiating the top 25 players of national interest. I've just seen too many examples of guys who I think represent the model of what we want to keep in Australian rugby get caught up in difficult complex negotiations between franchises, and then there's a split between the franchises and the ARU. I instead want those 25 players to know that Australian rugby want to keep them in the game, and they negotiate once.

Greg Growden: There are also problems at the junior level. While the AFL, rugby league and soccer are proactive in the area; there have been concerns that rugby has been lagging well behind in luring young talent. What's your thoughts?

Bill Pulver: The numbers don't actually confirm that. The participation numbers look pretty good. But you're right. I worry a lot about this. The AFL are very well funded, a very well organised code, and I hear comments about them approaching schools, explaining they have the ovals, the coaches, "here's all the gear", and signing up the younger age brackets. That is smart, and it worries the hell out of me. That's why within my structure I have a dedicated position that is very specific. It is not the head of community rugby. It's the head of rugby participation. And we've got good community programs in every franchise. I want someone that I can look in their eyes and say: "You are accountable to growing participation in the game. That's all I want you to do. Go get it done."

Greg Growden: I think you'll need more than one person.

Bill Pulver: There will be an army underneath.

Greg Growden: Finally, you've now been here just over three months. Has the job been tougher than you anticipated?

Bill Pulver: It's been fun. Great fun.

Greg Growden: Fun?

Bill Pulver: That might be a surprise. But how many jobs are there where you all day talk rugby? It involves fabulous people. Across the board I've met the most amazing array of people whose hearts are in the right place. The challenge is probably harder than what I thought. The financial side is a little worse than what I expected. Fan engagement matrix a little worse than what I expected. But I am not at all depressed. I can see that we are working very hard to get the strategy right. Also at the end of the day I take great comfort in knowing that our playing group is in good shape. You do have cyclical processes in every industry. And I just have a little bit of a sense that we may be at the beginning of a really good cycle. I'd love to think we have a purple patch ahead.


Is Bill Pulver doing a good job at the ARU? Do you like his proposals for growing the game?

Discuss the interview with Greg Growden on Twitter at @GregGrowden or leave a comment below to join the conversation at ESPNscrum

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