Grassroots problems 'could see whole Australian structure topple'
Greg Growden
February 24, 2016
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The Waratahs players, officials, sponsors, true believers and jersey tuggers with money to burn assembled at one of Sydney's most notable nightspots - The Ivy - on Wednesday to feast in everything rugby.

As the Waratahs were paraded to the lunchtime gathering via a strings version of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir, those at the season launch waded their way through smoked tomato crostini with prosciutto di Parma and buffalo mozzarella followed by either roast free-range chicken breast with creamed corn and silverbeet or slow-roast lamb rump, ratatouille and rosemary dressing, topped off with brown-sugar pavlova. Chardy, sparkling or pinot noir to wash it down.

This was the life, especially as we watched video after video showing how absolutely spiffing rugby was.

The Queensland Reds also know how to throw a party.

Last year, I attended the Reds' end-of-season ball and was impressed with the sheer professionalism and slickness of the night. They certainly knew how to concrete over the glaring cracks in their structure with whiz bang entertainment. If you were a sporting innocent, with no idea of the infighting that riddled the Reds team last year, you would have left that ball believing the game was on solid footing. However, you just knew something was amiss. Many of those Reds glorified up on stage that night have since fled the scene, and in the room were countless Queensland diehards complaining they were not going to put up with this nonsense for much longer - especially if their under-performing head coach kept under-performing.

The rumblings were impossible to ignore.

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But it is nothing compared to the fury at the next level. Out in rugby club land, the heart and soul of the game, the level of anger is in the "blazing bushfire" category.

Club officials, including notable Australian rugby names who over the past 30 years have been at the core of the Wallabies' Rugby World Cup success, are sick and tired of the opulence at the top level and the senseless waste of funds. They are even more disgusted that after propping up the system for so long they have to resort to begging for a dry, stale biscuit and a tepid glass of water, and are still getting snubbed by the Australian Rugby Union.

While those at the top gorge themselves, club land has to rely on weeks-old scraps.

It is not healthy when you have club volunteers, who have for decades provided and nurtured a structure that has developed virtually every Wallabies representative, lining up to describe ARU officials to the media as "arrogant" and "ignorant." These same volunteers complain the ARU, which brought in a ridiculous and unfair player levy, have simply "shafted" them.

ARU CEO Bill Pulver and new Wallabies coach Michael Cheika address the press, ARU press conference, Sydney, October 22, 2013
ARU CEO Bill Pulver and new Wallabies coach Michael Cheika address the press © Getty Images

You can understand their ire when ARU chief executive Bill Pulver told New South Wales officials at a recent meeting that he had zilch interest in financially supporting the clubs. They were now out in the cold on their own.

This comes just a few years after the same person virtually got on his hands and knees, and pleaded for support from club land so the national body did not go broke. A shoddy National Rugby Championship was thrust upon them.

No wonder the clubs think they have been treated like absolute mugs, and have the ARU No.1 on their hate list. There will be repercussions.

Maybe that's why someone else with a lot of authority at the ARU has thankfully sniffed the noxious breeze the past week or two and realised it will be a wise political move to approach Sydney club presidents privately to find out exactly what is going on in the battlefield. Meetings have taken place, and more are to follow, but it is all hush-hush.

Those club presidents are bound to tell this hopefully open-minded ARU board member that, despite all the froth following Australia's buoyant World Cup campaign, it is not healthy at the bottom level of the game. How some cash-strapped clubs continue is amazing, and due only to the generous spirit of those who week in week out volunteer their services because they love the game.

And the club presidents will tell the ARU board member in the most forceful of terms that they are not impressed with how a substantial number of those at the top level have recently and unnecessarily received gifts.

Hopefully for the game's sake these gifts were bought at Paddy's Markets cut-price rates.

Maybe, just maybe, we will see handbags at 20 paces?

At least NSW did something right at Wednesday's launch by making a special presentation to their most loyal employee, Robin Timmins, who is leaving Tah Land after 48 years of always putting rugby first. Robin has for decades been the most dedicated of rugby workers, organising referees, match officials and ensuring the lower levels of the game run smoothly. She is "rugby gold" and if anyone deserves a gift it is her, well ahead of many on the ARU long list.

Nonetheless, don't be bluffed by all the buzz, buzz, buzz that surrounds the start of the Super Rugby season this weekend. It must not camouflage the gnawing fact that at the most important level, the grassroots level of the Australian game, there are serious problems, which could ultimately see the whole structure topple. If it does, those who merrily sit in the high chairs at Fort Fumble, otherwise known as ARU HQ, have no-one to blame but themselves.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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