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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.
The Growden Report
Back to school for the ARU and Reds
Greg Growden
April 6, 2014
Ben McCalman and his Western force team-mates punished Queensland's errors © Getty Images
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It was a weekend for massive on- and off-field brain snaps.

The Queensland Reds must still be wondering what happened. They enjoyed promising territory and possession all game, but lost to the Western Force, the masters of minimalist football.

In times of stress, the Reds fell short in the intelligence stakes, making several mind-numbingly dumb decisions, and lost to a relentless 10-man orientated team which soaked up everything. After that performance, the Reds are forced to take the Dunce's hats off the heads of the New South Wales Waratahs.

But that was nothing compared to the weird and wacky statements made by Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver to the Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper.

The Western Force steal a thrilling win from Reds at Suncorp Stadium (Available in Australia Only)
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A few days earlier, the clue was provided that there was something decidedly odd going on at the ARU bunker. After months of talking the game down, crying poor and playing the blame game, Pulver had gone a bit bolshie. Maybe someone in the ARU spin-doctor department whose official duties include "Issues/Crisis Management" had prodded him into putting on the jackboots. All it did was create another crisis.

Taking on the other football codes suddenly appeared to be the push in a bid to improve the ARU's hope of boosting its TV broadcasting deal to give it some hope of gaining much-needed revenue to its withering coffers.

In an interview with Fairfax New Zealand's Marc Hinton, Pulver made the strange comment: "The AFL and NRL enjoy, respectively, $250 million and $200 million of broadcasting revenue a year. We've also got what we call soccer, which has landed in a bit of a sweet spot as Australia goes increasingly multicultural."

"Bit of a sweet spot" and "increasingly multicultural"? What nonsense. Australian soccer, or football, has been on a solid footing for decades.

On Saturday morning in an interview with the Telegraph's Iain Payten, Pulver went further. He declared the Wallabies a superior product to the Socceroos - a statement that will alienate him from the millions who follow the world's number one sporting code. He believes that rugby deserves far more than its $25 million per annum broadcasting deal with Fox Sports, and should match or even better the $40 million per year deal football enjoys with Fox Sports and SBS.

"Unlike the Socceroos, the Wallabies are truly competitive against all of the best teams in the world. So I think as an asset, the Wallabies are in a very strong position from a broadcasting perspective," Pulver told Payten.

This comes at a time when local broadcasters are naturally attracted to football, as it plays its A-League games in Australia and New Zealand - something that sucks in the viewers. It comes at a time when SANZAR is pushing for less Australian rugby derbies, and more overseas games that will basically not interest local audiences, or broadcasters.

It also comes at a time when Australia seriously lacks clout at SANZAR level, where, according to several high-ranking sources, South African and New Zealand officials take delight in either intimidating or ignoring their Australian counterparts. Once what Australia said on the world stage held some weight. Not at the moment. They are fobbed off. What South Africa and New Zealand want, they get - and so more and more South African Super Rugby teams, plus Argentina are included in the tournament. South African and Argentinean games simply don't rate in Australia.

No wonder sources are claiming several decision makers at Fox Sports are losing patience with the ARU.

The only voice of reason at the moment is the Australian players union - Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) - which vehemently opposes expansion. RUPA head Greg Harris said having seven teams based in the South African time zone would be a disaster for the local game. RUPA is instead pushing for a 10-team Trans Tasman competition involving countless games that would appeal to the Australian viewer. Harris argues that anyone signing off on a deal involving 18 Super Rugby teams was "not acting in Australia's best interests".

Further in the Daily Telegraph was an even more telling Pulver quote. Asked by Payten to explain his decision to back Super Rugby expansion "despite warnings of dire financial consequences for Australian rugby," Pulver replied: "We don't always make decisions exclusively for the good of Australian rugby. On occasion you make decisions for the good of all rugby."

Stop right there. Surely someone on the ARU board has to tell its figurehead that his job actually does revolve around making decisions exclusively for the good of Australian rugby.

Pulver is after all the CEO of the ARU, not the International Rugby Board or the United Nations.

Come in number two, your time is up!

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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