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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
With friends like Michael Cheika ...
Greg Growden
May 17, 2013
Cam Crawford of the Waratahs scores his second try, Southern Kings v New South Wales Waratahs, Super Rugby, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth, May 4, 2013
The Waratahs are coming to terms with Michael Cheika's game plan © Getty Images
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Michael Cheika is getting results with New South Wales Waratahs: they are playing a more invigorating brand of football; they are fitter than 12 months ago; and slowly, ever so slowly, the home crowds are starting to return. There is again some fire in the Waratahs' belly. While the on-field performances are on the rise, the Waratahs head coach also wants to make sure the province improves dramatically off the field.

It is no secret that Cheika has been frustrated by the efforts of several officials who work at Tahs head office at Moore Park, and there has been conflict. Cheika's standards are high, and, as many folk have discovered this season, he does not suffer fools; so it's hardly surprising that not every Waratahs official is in love with the hard-hitting coach. His confrontational style has a way of alienating those who clearly struggle in their positions, with one withering Tahs official overheard telling his decreasing number of supporters a few days ago that Cheika "is his own boss, who refuses to follow protocol".

Protocol, or no protocol, Cheika is at least succeeding in transforming the Waratahs into a viable football unit, giving the team a tough, competitive edge. And not before time. Also working in Cheika's favour is the fact that players - who over the years have been witness to a divisive dressing room - are talking about their coach in glowing terms. One gets the feeling that Cheika will win the on- and off-field battles; and the off-field battles are inevitable, because several crucial showdowns on numerous issues including finances, which will determine the future of Waratahs Rugby, are looming. There will be casualties.

ARU continues to spot fires

There are growing concerns at the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) that they will struggle to cut costs, estimated to be in the vicinity of $A10 million this financial year. The cost-cutting measures haven't been helped by two of the senior management team recently being offered significant incentives to stay, and that some at ARU headquarters appear to be on more lucrative salary packages than their predecessors. The number of advisers is also causing concern. We've been told by one of our best snouts at St Leonards that a highly competent staff member who recently left the ARU was approached to help out during the coming Test series. For good reason, he declined.

We also hear the British & Irish Lions are unimpressed by "gaping holes" in their Australian itinerary. Adding to the worries at ARU HQ is the fact there is strong word that Western Force and Melbourne Rebels are lobbying for more funding, more concessions and more marquee players. The Force are pushing the cause, and that may have something to do with their interest (or is it involvement?) in a B-team curtain-raiser competition. The other three Australian provinces are bound not to be too impressed if the Force and Rebels get preferential treatment.

For the love of Queensland, Ewen

Numerous Queensland Wallabies representatives are doing whatever they can to convince Ewen McKenzie to stay as their head coach next season. At least four notable Reds players have been working behind the scenes to see that McKenzie doesn't move on. Now one of the Queensland Reds key front-rowers, unhappy with the thought of their head coach departing, is seriously contemplating going to another Australian province. We know several Reds officials are nervous.

Daggers drawn

The relationship between two Australian provincial coaches is not exactly buoyant, with one recently describing the other as a "thug". Maybe that's why a proposed post-match dinner involving the pair was called off. Rebels players, meanwhile, are unimpressed how a long standing and ever-interfering official at their province has been critical of Kurtley Beale. They have long memories of this official, including some embarrassing off-field moments. They claim the official is a "hypocrite".

Greg Growden and Russell Barwick discuss the big issues

Photos iRb us

Several International Rugby Board officials are deeply concerned a photograph showing one of their delegates tired and emotional after a long night on the Dublin turps a few days ago could appear in the public arena. Let's just say the photo adds meaning to the footy phrase "up and under".

Say it ain't so

Quote of the week must go to ARU boss Bill Pulver who was brutally honest in ESPNscrum's exclusive interview when describing the despair of being a Waratahs supporter last year. It's worth repeating. Pulver said: "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?'" So many exasperated Waratahs supporters know exactly what the ARU chief kahuna is talking about.

Izzy coming is Izzy going

The rugby league interest in Israel Folau intensifies. And not just from Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs are also hovering. Rugby types wanting to keep Folau haven't helped themselves by messing up a promised third-party deal.

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