The Growden Report
Australian rugby is in a diabolical state
Greg Growden
December 1, 2014
Australian rugby is choking, Greg Growden reports © Getty Images

Australian rugby is in a diabolical state 10 months out from the 2015 World Cup.

The Wallabies, with their impotent scrum, are going backwards at a rapid rate, with the team just finishing their worst European tour in almost a decade having achieved just one Test win out of four. Back at home, it is even worse, as Sydney's Shute Shield clubs, the Sydney Rugby Union board and New South Wales Country representatives brutally discovered when they met Australian Rugby Union head honchos Michael Hawker and Bill Pulver at the NSW Rugby Union offices in Moore Park on Thursday night. Pulver and Hawker cast an extremely grim picture about Australian rugby finances during the two-hour meeting, warning the group of the serious threat of the national organisation being "bankrupt" in 2016.

Several sources who attended the meeting said that Pulver and Hawker mentioned the "threat of [ARU] insolvency" at least a dozen times. They also stressed the importance that everyone in the Australian rugby community had "to share the pain evenly".

At the SRU's instigation, Pulver and Hawker, who for months have been under intense criticism for their ineffective running of the game, attended the meeting to get support for their plan by which the grassroots provide much-needed revenue via a player levy. The ARU plea didn't work. The meeting was told that the ARU faced "economic disaster" in 2016 if the clubs did not support its national funding model.

ESPN revealed over the weekend that the ARU is moving to implement a model by which every rugby player in Australia will pay an individual registration fee and insurance levy. The clubs have been told that the fee in NSW in 2015 will be $33 for seniors, $27.50 for juniors and $11 for minis. The insurance levy in 2015 will be $75 for seniors, $8 for juniors and zero for minis.

Michael Cheika was realistic is the wake of England's powerful performance against Australia

But the projected fees have deeply angered the grassroots ranks, with countless clubs explaining that their players cannot afford the levy and could easily walk away from the game. A common club complaint is that it is morally wrong for the ARU to ask the impoverished grassroots level to help "provide funds for over-paid Wallabies players and an inefficient national administration".

In recent days, there have again been threats of the NSW premiership clubs breaking away from the ARU.

One Sydney Premier Rugby club official made a telling comment during the Hawker/Pulver meeting explaining the concern of some players and club administrators over the legal ramifications of sending money to a potentially insolvent body. Club directors, who are obligated by law to fulfill numerous major responsibilities, are naturally deeply concerned about such a dangerous situation.

ESPN reported exclusively in October that stakeholders at this year's ARU annual general meeting were warned of "insolvency in 2015". The club meeting was provided with details that indicated the ARU was prepared to lose around $5-10 million per annum, and income could be down to $75 million next year. By the end of 2015, the ARU's net assets could have dwindled to a paltry $100,000.

Local officials are also distressed that the struggling National Rugby Championship, described by one ARU director as the body's "bravest ever decision", has come at the cost of the demise of club and community rugby.

There is no relief for Australian Rugby on the pitch.

England's forwards celebrate a powerful scrum try © Getty Images

The England pack massacred the Australian eight at Twickenham on Saturday, and the Wallabies know they face an onerous Rugby World Cup campaign next year; especially if they are unable to find quick solutions to their glaring forward dramas.

The Wallabies pack got worse the longer the 2014 Test season went, and their feeble effort against England in the 26-17 defeat was an outright embarrassment. Australia's scrum was minced virtually every time they had to confront their opponents, with the tight-five exposed, again, as not being up to the task. And the Wallabies back-row looked like midgets compared with their England counterparts.

Wallabies official keep going on and on about how their scrum is wrongly maligned by the international media, referees and the general public. But that is absolute piffle. The reality is that the Wallabies scrum is dreadful, and has been for a considerable amount of time. End of argument.

As abominable is the fact that several of the Australian forwards are clearly clueless about the law book. Either side of half-time, we saw diabolical penalties involving Wallabies lock Sam Carter and replacement Luke Jones; surely they know you cannot run into a ruck at a 75-degree angle and believe you can get away with it. And surely they know of the outcome if you deliberately pull down an opposition rolling maul right in front of the referee. How dumb they both looked.

The Wallabies apologists, led by former Test players who refuse to take off their rose-coloured glasses, have already started to bang on about how everything will be better next year, because there are so many good replacements to return.

David Pocock, Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Fardy, Scott Higginbotham, James O'Connor and even Karmichael Hunt will make some sort of difference. Sure. But there's nothing much in reserve in the most important areas of prop and second-row. And that's the problem. If your props and second rowers are off the pace and aren't producing, what hope have you got? What have you got? Dry rot in every direction as far as you can see.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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