Ruck'n Maul
Bulldogs are barking for Israel Folau
Greg Growden
April 19, 2013
Israel Folau in the Wallabies fold was a tactical play from the Australia Rugby Union to help him feel the love

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) decision to make a big deal of Israel Folau being part of the Wallabies camp squad could easily backfire. Wallabies coach Robbie Deans' argument that Folau has "x-factor" surprised many, as the New South Wales Waratahs utility back still looks a long way off from being a Test player. Folau's selection has more to do with the ARU doing whatever it can to convince the player to stay in the code. And that appears a lost cause. The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs NRL club is hovering close to Folau, and it will surprise no-one if he appears in the league ranks next year. Despite denials, Folau is understood to have been less than impressed in being used by ARU officials to promote Sevens football the previous week. He was apparently not warned about this, and was forced to admit interest in the Australian Sevens program. has also been told that those associated with Folau are deeply unimpressed with embarrassing racial comments made towards him at a recent rugby function, and also a misguided conversation involving a high-ranking official, who suggested: "What are you going to play next? Cricket?" Maybe that's why there were sightings of those close to Folau leaving the Bulldogs offices a few days ago.

Melbourne a home from home for former ARU officials

Melbourne Rebels could soon be a haven for former ARU employees, with David Nucifora's name on the list of candidates to be head coach next year. After ARU head honcho Bill Pulver called in former Brumbies boss Rob Clarke to take over as the Rebels' interim chief executive officer, the strong word out of Melbourne is that they are pursuing Nucifora to take over from Damien Hill. At least Clarke knows Nucifora well, having both worked together in very trying times at the Brumbies, before Clarke moved on to be the ARU's chief operations officer during the Gary Flowers era. A senior Rebels official was adamant on Thursday that Nucifora, who recently left the ARU after being the organisation's high-performance manager, Wallabies selector and assistant coach, is high up on the franchise's wish list. Tim Lane is scheduled to join French second-tier club Lyon in June, but his name has again bobbed up at the Rebels. The Rebels certainly need a strong leader, with the province turning into a rabble during their tour of South Africa - culminating in a fight involving Kurtley Beale, Gareth Delve and Cooper Vuna. The despair was also there for all to see after they lost to Southern Kings last weekend, with at least one player in tears in the dressing room. It is understood the currently suspended Beale is keen to return but numerous high-ranking officials want him to sit out for several more weeks.

Waratahs seek to avoid branding exercise

The fear that James O'Connor is leaving the Rebels is causing concerns at other provinces. While discussions continue with the Brumbies, some New South Wales Waratahs players are worried that "Brand O'Connor" may be heading to Sydney. One Waratahs back announced at a gala Sydney University rugby function last weekend: "James O'Connor… you are not welcome here." The same player's puerile comments about women rugby spectators didn't go down well, either. At the same function, a former high-ranking rugby official won no friends when he was sighted helping himself to an expensive bottle of red wine from another table.

Sydney, next stop Perth

The Waratahs are losing numerous key players, with Drew Mitchell, Berrick Barnes and Sitaleki Timani heading overseas. There is also uncertainty where Wycliff Palu will end up, while another enormous name at the Waratahs is now seriously contemplating "heading west" - which we assume means Western Force. Michael Foley, the former Waratahs coach now in Perth, would gladly pick up this star. Also a Waratahs backline player has been told by management to "pull his head in" after complaining repeatedly about a recent signing. Meanwhile, Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is waiting with interest the selection of the British & Irish Lions squad, as his marquee target for 2014 could easily revolve around who does and does not make the touring list.

Well done, Wycliff

Top marks to Wycliff Palu for making full use of his club appearance with Manly in Sydney last weekend. After attending club training on Thursday night for scrummage and lineout drills, he played on Saturday and then stayed on the field for an eternity after full-time to sign autographs and pose for photographs with fans.

Toxic atmospheres

Interesting whispers of the week include the relationship between an Australian provincial head coach and one of his assistants now being so "toxic" that the assistant is expected to move on before season's end. Over at the Force, the father of a player has clashed with a high-ranking official over derogatory remarks. The situation wasn't helped when coaching staff approached the player and told him to "get over it".

Greg Growden and Russell Barwick discuss the big issues in Australian rugby
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand

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