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Australian Rugby
Pulver puts financial hopes in Grand Slam
October 21, 2013
Ewen McKenzie shakes hands with Bill Pulver after being appointed as the new ARU Wallabies coach, Sofitel Hotel, Brisbane, Australia, July 9, 2013
Bill Pulver believes that winning a grand slam tour will rejuvenate cash-strapped Australian rugby © Getty Images
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No pressure Ewen McKenzie, but your boss Bill Pulver is pinning big hopes on the Wallabies' northern tour. It's been 29 years since Andrew Slack's Wallabies created history with a memorable Grand Slam triumph that wowed the United Kingdom. Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chief Pulver, fighting tooth and nail to boost a battered code, believes a second sweep of the Home Unions in November couldn't be better timed.

The Wallabies fly out for London on Friday aiming to restore pride after a difficult 2013 on the field - three wins from 10 Tests - which has further highlighted the game's precarious financial position. Pulver, though, believes success against England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales would go a long way to removing the dark clouds and renewing interest in the code.

"It's incredibly important," Pulver said. "It's been a very tough year at the elite level for Australian rugby.I would rate it as a key milestone for us."

The 1984 grand slam, when legendary five-eighth Mark Ella scored a try in all four Test wins, was the highlight for Australian rugby to that point in its history. Not only did it have the British pundits in raptures but it also energised the game in Australia.

David Campese, Nick Farr-Jones and Michael Lynagh were young members of Slack's slick backline who would go on to claim the Bledisloe Cup in 1986 and the 1991 World Cup in London. Emulating the 1984 team, coached by Alan Jones, would likewise give new coach McKenzie a huge springboard towards the 2015 World Cup in England.

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Fortunately, there have been signs in the Wallabies' past two matches - the 54-17 thrashing of Argentina and Saturday's 41-33 loss to the All Blacks - that the backline, marshalled by Will Genia and Quade Cooper, is starting to hit its straps in attack and could provide similar thrills if the forwards can match it with their rivals.

The ninth grand slam tour by Australia also includes a Test against Italy - their second fixture on November 9 in Turin - after they start the campaign with the toughest clash, against world No.3 England at Twickenham.

Originally, the tour was set down for four weeks, finishing with Tests against Ireland (November 16) and Scotland (November 23), before the ARU and equally cash-strapped Welsh devised a fifth, making the grand slam sweep a possibility.

Pulver acknowledged the additional game extended the already long calendar to 10 full months of playing for Wallabies players. But growing player welfare concerns had to be put on the back seat for the opportunity it presented to McKenzie's team. "To me, it was a no-brainer because it did give us some more revenue and it does create more interest in the tour," he said.

Pulver knows the key will be starting on the right foot against the English, who produced a memorable upset of the All Blacks at Twickenham 12 months ago, to get on a roll. "If we could beat England in that first game of the grand slam ... we have to create hope for the rugby community," the ARU chief executive said. "It's really important. It's part of Ewen's building process for a young squad."

© AAP
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