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Greg Growden
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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
Ruck'n Maul
Rugby losing the war against rival codes
Greg Growden
September 27, 2013
Bad weather and Perth aren't the only reasons why rugby is struggling for exposure in Australia © Getty Images
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The week that was and the week that will be in rugby
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Australian rugby's brave decision to take on the National Rugby League (NRL) and Australian Football League (AFL) head-on during the final series has bombed. The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) a few years ago lobbied for the expansion of The Rugby Championship in part to stretch the Test season well into October, to provide competition to the NRL and AFL during the most important part of their year. Unfortunately rugby has become "The Invisible Man" during the finals period, with television ratings poor and mainstream exposure of Australian rugby minimal at best.

It doesn't help that the Wallabies are so out of whack, and performing like paupers, but Australian rugby doesn't help itself by opting against the "up close and personal" touch the AFL,in particular, have mastered. Watch the AFL on television, and you could almost be there; the cameras are allowed in the dressing rooms, access is strong, and the coaches are brutally honest whenever interviewed. The AFL fan is actually part of the coverage. Not so for Wallabies supporters. And the divide is growing. The Wallabies have for many years barred the media from the dressing rooms, and a lot of what is thrown out to the press is battery-hen stuff, with contact between the team and the media closely monitored and patrolled. The public misses out, because rugby now has a minor media presence.

As disconcerting is news of the heavy-handed attitude of one floundering ARU media flak who recently put pressure on a broadcaster, demanding they do a TV story a different way, so they would push a blatant promotional line that was basically boring. No wonder the broadcaster was unimpressed, and described the ARU as the hardest sporting organisation to deal with.

If that doesn't bother you, then you can understand the alarm of numerous Sydney club officials who have been told by the ARU that Tony Abbott's newly elected Federal Government will bail the code out if the game gets in real trouble. Yeah, right! Is that pigs sighted flying past ARU HQ in St Leonards?

ARU continues to antagonise Sydney clubs

The fallout from the Sydney club presidents' meeting at which the officials turned on ARU boss Bill Pulver, (described in detail in Ruck'n Maul last week), continues. We now hear the relationship between two Sydney clubs is very tense, to the extent that there was some great sledging on Shute Shield grand final day. As worrying at the Australian provincial level is talk the ARU is threatening to "pull the funding" in major areas. There is reason for alarm among the clubs as some of the proposals pushed from head office include: refusing to allow Shute Shield players involved with interstate provinces to play in the Sydney competition; introducing a Super 'B' competition in which 11 extra players are added to each of the Australian Super Rugby franchises; and a national club competition involving four from Sydney, two from Brisbane and one each from Canberra, Melbourne and Perth. The ARU is also threatening to cut back a $65,000 club grant, which in recent years has been reduced from $135,000 per year.

Great stories about Ted Heinrich and John Hipwell

John Hipwell fields questions in a press conference, Heathrow Airport, London, October 4, 1975
John Hipwell had a personable nature © Getty Images
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It was a sad week for the Wallabies fraternity with the funeral of Test back-rower Ted Heinrich coinciding with the death of one of Australia's most renowned scrum-halves, John Hipwell. At Heinrich's funeral, his son Jake talked about how his father, who played 10 Tests between 1961 and 1963, emphasised the intensity of playing the All Blacks. Once when the pair was watching a televised football match, Jake asked Ted: "Did you know any All Blacks?" "No I didn't," came the reply. "All I wanted to do is stand on their faces." Many at Heinrich's funeral were told of Hipwell's passing.

Hipwell's footballing skills were widely known, but his personable nature was equally admirable. Rugby raconteur John Bain recalled when New South Wales Country were in Sydney in 1981 for their annual match against the Waratahs. Hipwell and Greg Cornelsen were invited to play in a subbies match for Old Ignatians against South Sydney-New Zealand at the old Sydney Cricket Ground No.2 ground. They agreed with Hipwell playing for Iggies, with Dale Richards, Lane Cove's version of Lord Lucan, playing outside him at five-eighth. Lucan, I mean Richards, said later that he had to locate himself at outside centre given the quality of the pass. After the match, Souths presented Hipwell with their jersey, and said they hoped to see him wear it on the Wallabies tour of Great Britain later that year. Just after the tour commenced, there was TV footage of the Wallabies involved in their first training session. Sure enough, Hipwell was wearing the Souths jersey.

Fuse a natural born cyclist

The latest on "Fuse". Former Wallabies prop Al Baxter was this week sighted at his first training run with the Eastern Suburbs Cycling Club, and he impressed. He was introduced to the skills of the peloton, and even had some time at the front. More astoundingly, he won a couple of sprints in his group. Hardened Easts members said Fuse is a "natural" but he has yet to make the drastic step of shaving down his legs.

Rumours of the Week

Sheer madness: Is it true that a well-known Wallabies player was paid an exorbitant five-figure sum to play a Sydney club game recently?

Who is running the asylum? A well-known Wallabies player is yet to pay a large team fine. No wonder the Wallabies squad is far from one big happy camp. And certain Wallabies are suspicious of one of their own officials, believing the person may be a spy for someone higher up the food chain. This has actually happened before with the Wallabies.

Low society: The social dramas of a high-profile Waratahs player is causing alarm at Moore Park; something about photographs, altercations and stupid behaviour at nightclubs. And legal action is pending after a meeting between an ARU director and a former Waratahs official, who is about to lift the lid on certain major funding issues.

Breaking new ground: A woman with plenty of power and very strong rugby connections is going around saying she could be Australian rugby's first female provincial CEO.

The name's ... : An Australian coach is known as "James Bond"; something to do with the team's lowly (007) ranking.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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