Bad Santa
Greg Growden presents his rugby Christmas gifts
Greg Growden
December 19, 2013
Greg Growden ... what to give Bill Pulver, the rugby fan who has almost everything he wants? ©

Christmas is the time for goodwill to all men, a time for merrymaking as we celebrate friendships with those who make us most happy - most of the time. Greg Growden has returned from a week away, relaxing away from Sydney and contemplating what to give to whom in celebration and appreciation of their contribution to Australian rugby in the past 12 months.

Greg may have updated his gift list to recognise his changed feelings about the health, wealth and happiness of the code in Australia - more positive now in December than seemed possible in early November after the Wallabies' efforts against England at Twickenham; still, what to buy Bill Pulver, the man who doesn't yet quite have everything he wants?

A manicure: Ewen McKenzie has chewed his nails to the quick since taking over as Wallabies coach. He has been subjected to endless stressful moments, and no wonder at times he resembles Grumpy Poppa Bear on the sideline. To his credit, he has stood up to the pressure and made the big, tough decisions. And wasn't it marvellous to see him produce a slight grin after the victory over Wales; or was that Santa's imagination?

With the Wallabies on the improve, now might be a good time for a manicure © Getty Images

Any present he wants, just ask: Israel Folau. Australian rugby has seen been some excellent league converts who have made it in the Wallabies ranks: Lote Tuqiri, Mat Rogers and Wendell Sailor. But is Folau the best of them all? Folau was a shining light in a fluctuating, often terrifying, season for the Wallabies, a prime reason to keep watching them. His attacking combination with Quade Cooper is improving every Test, and even the All Blacks are starting to get a bit edgy. Israel, pick whatever present you like from under the tree; you deserve it.

Take whatever Israel Folau has left under the Christmas tree: Quade Cooper has transformed himself since Ewen McKenzie gave him the Wallabies vice-captaincy. He's won back a lot of friends, and he is certainly an influence on the Wallabies team. I was originally going to give him a copy of How To Win Friends and Influence People, but he has clearly already read Dale Carnegie's self-help classic.

Quade Cooper gets second pick from Santa's gifts under Greg's tree © Getty Images

Anything left: To Scott Fardy. The find of the Wallabies' season has proved the importance of persistence, and he knows how to survive on scraps.

The Wallabies "dobber" might be very appreciative of this gift © Getty Images

A Ned Kelly shield of armour: To the Wallabies player who dobbed in his supposed mates after their night on the soup in Dublin. Let's just say several Australian derbies next season could degenerate into bloody affairs, as numerous Wallabies squad members weren't exactly impressed they were "grassed" on; the suit will see service.

A "don't you know who I am?" badge: James O'Connor. The Wallabies' most important player one day; totally unwanted the next. A succession of off-field incidents, culminating in silly scenes at Perth Airport, saw him forced to head to England to get a player contract. A sad waste of talent. But Santa has a feeling he is going to rebound big-time; James O'Connor definitely has not played his last Test for the Wallabies.

Mistletoe: To those Wallabies still cranky over the Dublin affair. Kiss-and-make-up time? Sure. Probably not.

Are mistletoe's magical qualities enough to mend the Wallabies' rifts? © Getty Images

A badge of honour: To those players in the Wallabies' touring squad who didn't get on the turps in Dublin. They are absolute geniuses. Dublin nightspots have brought down many a good man, including members of the Australian journalistic ranks over the years.

An hour on a psychiatrist's couch: Australian Rugby Union (ARU) boss Bill Pulver needs a good lie down after his relentless personal crusade to get the National Rugby Championship off the ground, with claims even that it has the potential to be the equivalent to the Currie Cup and New Zealand's provincial championship. Woop. Woop. Woop. Big difference: rugby reigns supreme in New Zealand and South Africa; in Australia, the competition from the other football codes is overwhelming. As Jake White, in line for the Wallabies coaching job before a last-minute ARU re-think, said on his return to South Africa after farewelling the Brumbies: "In South Africa, most boys grew up wanting to be Springboks. But in Australia, most youngsters grow up wanting to play cricket for Australia, Aussie rules, rugby league or go to the Olympics. It is a minority who grow up wanting to be Wallabies."

Greg has offered Bill Pulver some quiet time on the couch © Getty Images

The ARU might want to use caution when opening its Chrissy presents © Getty Images

A bomb: The Pulveriser gets his wish, having already delivered the ticking present to ARU HQ. The National Rugby Championship is going to happen, and countless observers, even several wandering the corridors of the ARU, ponder how it is going to be viable; they fear it will go the way of the previous national third-tier venture, and be a financial flop. Now they have to come up with some names for the cobbled together teams. Here's some suggestions: the Sydney Skints, the Brisbane Bankrupts, the Perth Pawn Shoppers, the Melbourne Mortgage and the Canberra Creditors. Keep your hands in your pockets, boys! Also keep a close look out for "Hire a Crowd" free tickets on the street.

A donation that doesn't bounce: To all those tireless, thankless, dedicated club officials who continue to produce the talent and provide Australia a productive third tier with virtually no support from those above. They are the real saints of Australian rugby, and they conduct their miracles without chest beating.

A dictionary: To Kurtley Beale after his sensational quote of the year, "Them flick passes aren't really in our abattoir", and for numerous error-strewn tweets in the early hours during the Six Nations tournament. If you want to sledge us, champ, learn how to spell.

Ruck'n Maul: Greg Growden and Russell Barwick review the rugby year that was

A month's supply of Berocca: To those Wallabies nabbed in Dublin, and to the renowned former New South Wales Rugby Union heavy who in recent times has made a pest of himself at countless rugby functions. Apart from crashing through a toilet door at a function where British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland was speaking, and falling down the stairs at a club game, he was even accused of stealing bottles of wine from other people's tables at a glittering club function.

A recording studio session: To those Lions fans who came up with the best ditty of the year, chanting on the night of the Wallabies' Test loss in Brisbane: "He slipped. He missed. Now he's on the piss. Kurtley Beale. Kurtley Beale."

A big pile of Monopoly money and a moth-eaten school tie: To the ARU officials who keep cutting, cutting, cutting, discarding so much of their intellectual property, but remain committed to the National Rugby Championship, and continue to prop up the struggling Melbourne Rebels. Doh! Old mates act maybe?

A photograph of any team celebrating a Super Rugby title: To New South Wales Waratahs, to remind them of what they should have achieved years ago. It is sheer madness that Australia's biggest province has never won the title, and for many seasons not even come close. Blame a lot of that on poor administration and leadership. NSW rugby remains the basket case of the Australian game, and numerous administrators should hang their heads in shame.

A motivational gift for the Waratahs © Getty Images

A mirror: To those misguided South African administrators who demand another of their teams in the Super Rugby competition. What else do they want to do to wreck the tournament? It is time for them to have a good look at themselves, and return to reality. Otherwise head off to Europe with your wacky plans. A trans-Tasman provincial competition sounds very appealing. We might then also not need a National Rugby Championship.

A media gig: To the first player to make an intelligent comment and avoid saying one cliché when confronted by TV types during the half-time break. Will the mindless patter ever end? We fear this present will remain unwrapped under the tree for a while.

A magic sponge that actually works: To anyone in the rugby's administrative ranks who can stop clearly concussed players from returning to the field. The sight of a clearly wonky and disoriented George Smith reappearing during the last Lions Test showed Australian rugby in the worst possible light. The International Rugby Board, if seriously interested in player safety, must sort this out quick smart. As importantly, there should be a hard-and-fast rule any player even suspected of being concussed cannot play in at least the next game. Too many high-ranking coaches and team managers try to tippy-toe around this delicate issue.

Five minutes of fame on YouTube: To anyone who can produce a sound tape of what Michael Cheika was saying in the Waratahs' dressing rooms before Super Rugby matches. The footage of an expressive Cheika revving up his players on Fox Sports was sensational. Just the words were missing. Lip readers are encouraged to contact "Santa c/- North Goalpost". Also, anyone who has footage of the Rebels team bus brouhaha in South Africa when supposed team-mates decked each other can send it via a brown paper bag to the same address.

And finally a University degree: To anyone who can understand Digby Ioane's tweets.

Season greetings, to one and all, and have a rugby Christmas.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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