Ruck'n Maul
'Cheika was told to seek out Peyper'
Greg Growden
April 17, 2015
Ruck'n Maul: Worrying times for Australian rugby

A Michael Cheika explosion is imminent. So keep a close eye on the TV screen during upcoming Waratahs matches - especially as he has shown in the past he doesn't exactly hide his emotions. When he loses it, it makes great TV. The Waratahs coach was deeply irritated by the team's lacklustre performance against the Stormers. Cheika in particular didn't appreciate the attitude shown by some of his players … and they know it. Maybe that's why during the week Will Skelton said the Waratahs may have taken the Stormers for granted. Adding to the agitation is that Cheika appears genuinely surprised over the brouhaha surrounding his visit to the referee's room at half-time during the Blues match several weeks earlier, prompting a SANZAR investigation. His anger was obvious during the media conference last Saturday night when he was asked about the half-time visit. According to Waratahs sources, what hasn't been revealed is that Cheika was advised by another official to see referee Jaco Peyper during the break. Cheika also won't be happy to find out that two prominent Australian Rugby Union figures were pushing for a special board meeting to chastise him, but that was stopped following the intervention of an ARU director.

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika lays down the law at training, Sydney, March 24, 2015
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika lays down the law © Getty Images

Back to the future with high-performance unit

As the waiting game for the new SANZAR broadcasting deal to be announced goes on and on, its anticipated riches are likely to see the ARU re-establish its high performance unit. And not before time. The ARU's decision to close down the unit cannot be described as an inspired move, especially with the Wallabies' embarrassing drop in the world rankings. ARU chief Bill Pulver's recent comments about the HPU has also surprised some, including numerous former ARU staff members. Pulver said during a recent newspaper interview that apart from the unit being closed as part of the ARU's economy drive, he had also shut it down because of concerns it was impinging on Robbie Deans' performance as Wallabies coach. Pulver said: "He [Deans] was effectively reporting to the HP manager [David Nucifora]. I wasn't convinced that he [Deans] had control over the key people around him required to get the job done." This is not how other others remember it.

According to R&M's sources, shutting down the HPU was a "strategic move" not a cost reduction, with plans to devolve the role to Super Rugby franchises. Deans, while working with Nucifora, reported directly to Pulver's predecessor - John O'Neill, who ensured the coach's organisational skills remained effective. Nucifora also left the ARU before Pulver began at the organisation in 2013. Deans was replaced as Wallabies coach later that year.

It is not exactly surprising that the ARU had a horrendous off-season in 2014 with the removal of important "safeguards, checks and balances", with the Ewen McKenzie/Di Patston/Kurtley Beale fiasco still hanging over their heads. An upcoming court hearing revolving around business manager Patston's departure has the potential to be highly embarrassing for the ARU. So dismantling the HPU could turn out to be very costly for the ARU. As for Nucifora, he is now performance director at the Irish Rugby Union. Ireland are currently ranked third in the world - three spots above Australia.

Super Rugby Preview: Round 10

Moves underway to replace Bill Pulver

Two well-known rugby identities - a former player and an experienced official - have their eyes firmly on the ARU CEO job, quietly working away on campaigns to take over from Pulver. A third candidate, who is currently running an Australian province, is regarded as 'the outsider' to be the next ARU head honcho. Not for the first time Pulver finds himself under threat. R&M has been told that Pulver is struggling to maintain the support of some ARU board members, who are concerned about the continual managerial complaints aimed at the national body. Not helping the situation is the fact the other Australian football codes are laughing at the ARU for "its lack of marketing and initiatives involving its franchises and lower tiers of the game". R&M was this week passed on one ARU directive. It is complete gobbledygook. In a crucial World Cup year, the ARU is not exactly stable.

SANZAR find themselves under heavy fire

SANZAR has also had a few tough weeks, and it could be rocky for some time. New Zealand media outlets are querying the process behind Cheika escaping with a warning over his half-time chat with referee Peyper. New Zealand Herald reporter Wynne Gray brought up the valid point: "Why didn't SANZAR reveal there was an incident and an investigation until the Herald began making inquiries?" South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins also came up with some fair points when he attacked SANZAR for inconsistencies, while also targeting its chief executive Greg Peters. Hoskins is infuriated with recent disciplinary tribunal rulings, believing South African players are being unfairly dealt with compared to their New Zealand and Australian counterparts. Hoskins said he was "incensed, absolutely frustrated and the public is outraged". You don't want Hoskins working against you, as he can be relentless. SANZAR need no reminding they have to pick up their act.

Francois Steyn's suspensions caused quite a stir in South Africa © Getty Images

Coaching rumours abound Australian franchises

In coaching maneuvers, Brian Smith, who has joined up with Scots College in Sydney, is being pushed by some as a potential co-coach at a struggling Australian province. A genuinely nervous head coach has heard wind of this and has said: "No". There are also persistent rumours that Rebels assistant coach Todd Louden is being chased by European clubs for a head coaching role.

Brumbies endure awful Auckland trip

The Brumbies were underwhelmed by their trip to Auckland, where the Blues enjoyed their first win of the season. The Brumbies' emotions were not helped when they had to confront a group of revelers who were somewhat aggressive towards them as they left the field.

Dig deep for the local meat tray

Footy club raffles are bound to be all the go this year to ensure they stay viable. The Sydney premiership teams were reminded this week that there will be no club grants this year. The NSW Rugby Union has allocated $450,000 to the Sydney Rugby Union, but the SRU has committed $300,000 towards the broadcast cost of the Shute Shield telecast on 7TWO this year. The clubs have been told by the SRU that "the balance of funds will be required to manage the competition pending gate receipts for the finals series". So if any club official starts spruiking the meat raffles on game day, give generously. The SRU Board has also approved a player payment cap of $200,000 per club for 2016.

Whispers of the week

  • Who is the big-name Wallabies player so disenchanted with his Australian Super Rugby team that he wants to move immediately to another franchise The problem is no one out there wants him.
  • A former Waratahs coach is in line for a prominent role with one of the NRC clubs this season. And a former Wallabies assistant coach is sniffing around another NRC club in search of a gig.
  • Fun and games after one Shute Shield match last weekend with two first-graders coming to blows in the clubhouse.
  • And what's this about Phil Blake and the Sea Eagles NRL club?

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